Meditating with Mataji

Meditating with me takes the perspective of stillness. When the mind is still, consciousness is uncluttered by thinking.

Thinking requires consciousness, but thinking does not create consciousness. Consciousness is always there. When identification shifts to consciousness rather than thoughts, the mind and its concepts become as easy to see as the hand in front of your face, and that makes a big difference to how life is experienced.

When there is awareness of the mind, the “me” behaves better, because the quiet self sees the mind’s pains and pleasures objectively. Most of the fuss in life comes from a total investment in the likes and dislikes of “me”, and we see life constantly in terms of Me…. ME – and you; ME – and the rest of the world; ME – and my friends; ME – and the people who don’t like me; ME – and my ego

It sets itself at the centre of all, and even giving itself a second person in there somewhere, called “my ego”. But the I/Me is the ego! It’s not something we have, it is what the personal self actually is.

That changes – a little at first, then a lot, as awareness grows. As persons, we become more robust to the ups and downs of life, more tolerant of others, and much much easier with our own life and how the world is. And yes, a quiet awareness notices that, too.

Meditation times with me:

Learn Still-Mind Meditation and Mindfulness

A six week course to learn the practice and outcomes of meditation and mindfulness. The focus is on stillness of mind while meditating, and keeping a meditative awareness – that is, being mindful – while active. And by the end of the six weeks, if you practise as suggested, you will be able to meditate without being dependent on an app, or on anything, or anyone, else.

Next Meditation times available: First term 2021

Online only: Sessions are at 11.00 am or 7.00 pm
6 weeks starting Wednesday January 13, ends February 17
6 weeks starting Wednesday March 10, ends April 14
(Melbourne Daylight Saving time till 3rd April, Eastern Standard Time after that)

On Campus: At Waverley Yoga Studio
Tuesday February 16 – March 23 at 11.00 am
Thursday February 18 – March 25 at 6.00 pm

Still-mind Meditation Retreat

A weekend of immersion in peace of mind. Finding out more about how to live from the new perspective where the ego is object and self is quiet awareness.

At Aligning Health Centre, Axedale (near Bendigo): 4.00 pm Friday 12th February to 3.00 pm Sunday 14th February


To get in early on either the Learn Still-mind Meditation and Mindfulness program, or the Bendigo retreat, contact me through the form below, or else [email protected]

Contact me:

Blah blab blah

Posted in Article, Meditation, Mindfulness, Spritual Realism | Leave a comment

Still-mind meditation – Outcomes, Not Philosophy

Where do the teachings of still-mind meditation come from? Tracy, a very insightful young  teacher of still-mind meditation, rang me  with exactly that query.

Considering that there is Buddhism and Zen and MBSR and the multitude of other titles for meditation – what she called ‘packages’ – it is a good question. And people who ask about learning meditation do often want to know what “the package” is.  What do you suppose I answered?  Of course I said it is about outcomes, not philosophy.

Still-mind meditation shifts awareness

Outcomes, not teachings

From a mind’s-eye view of “me and everything else”, awareness shifts to an easeful, fluid merging with reality as it is.

Those who get it live differently from those who don’t

With an easeful fluidity, they move from experience to experience without either defensiveness or aggression.  They recognise that they don’t need an opinion on everything that passes by their senses. After a while, they do not need “teachings” to guide their behaviour, and yet wisdom and compassion grow in the fertile soil of stillness watered by the sweet  nutrients of regular no-thing, still-mind meditation.

This is quite different from living with a need for justifications,  rules,  certainty and control. Such common neediness brings separation from those whose rules are different – a breeding ground for defensiveness and aggression rather than peace and easefulness.

 Not teachings  – awareness

But those who do get it soon recognise that the original teachers were simply talking to the people who came to them, whether that was in Aramaic, or Japanese, or Sanskrit, or old Middle German, or Arabic, or Greek . They were not setting up an ism or a body of doctrines. While books and teachings can be  helpful at first, eventually one just has to “get it”. “Getting it” means meeting every moment of every day with acute awareness.

Awareness of what?

Getting it is awareness that egocentrism (the view through the lens of I-me)  distorts  the experience of reality.

Paradoxically, subscribing to a set of beliefs reinforces that distortion. Not getting it is inevitable when one subscribes instead to a body of teachings, an ism,  normally involving doctrine, dogma  and rules for members.  When holding on to an ism people generally try to be a little more loving, a little less selfish, a little more forgiving… sounds nice, yet in the process, life, self and existence is neither queried, nor examined. They work on modifying self-importance rather than examining where it comes from.

“Not getting it” is merely to modify egotism, while a more profound practice  – stillness -brings recognition  (“getting it”) that the roots of egotism  lie in a world-view where the principle  is: “I” am different from everyone and everything else, and really rather special. That world-view is egocentrism. Stillness is a route out of it.

Egocentrism versus egotism

Egocentrism is more pernicious than simple egotism. While egotism is just plain selfishness, egocentrism is a  notion as ignorant as the theory that the sun revolves around the earth – which itself is flat, and made for the use of mankind.

Egocentrism is both personal – the feeling that self is at the centre of all there is, and the person has a right to use what there is for personal advantage – and also is a phenomenon of the human species. We practise the egocentric world view  with personal selfishness and self-righteousness, and in biases at a much broader level, which are national, cultural, and species-wide. Humans at the centre of the universe.

“Getting it” is the reverse… from still-mind meditation, identification is with quiet awareness, where the question is not about “who I am”, or should I strive more,  or how much we can become a good person or how much wickedness should be punished, or what is forgivable or what is not, or what will happen to us when we die.  Identification is with consciousness itself,  which makes no claim on I-me specialness – the origin of  selfishness and cruelty – or superiority, by which we set ourselves up as the judge. There is simplicity, fluid easefulness and empathy.

Categories where  you might find outcomes of still-mind meditation (but why bother with categories?)

If you must put that awareness into a category of teachings,  for the sake of discussion, we can call it non-dualism, ie the  unitary experience of being when “I-me”  is recognised as a cognitive distortion of the facts of life. That really does not become visible without a practice of still-mind meditation.

The comprehension of it can be found in packages like

  • Zen
  • some of mainstream Buddhism (but notice the ism)
  • Meister Eckhart
  • but not in Christian dogma
  • perhaps in the Greek Cynics
  • probably in Plotinus’s Enneads (if you can plough through them to find the gems)
  • many of the stories of Nasruddin, whose origins are Islamic
  • Arabic – the emotional poetry of Rumi, whose legacy also is Islamic
  • Tao Te Ching, Chinese outline of what comes of still-mind meditation

And of course there is

  • Hindu Advaita, which translated directly means Not Two, and was practised as still-mind meditation long before Gautama came down to central India and learnt about it from Yogis.

And Gautama just talked to people too.  But then over centuries  devotees turned him into The Buddha, and argumentation between competing opinions about his teachings,  by people who had never  heard him teaching, led to creation of a canon of doctrines, over which scholars still argue to show their learning.  Well might the Zen Buddhist Shoju shrug and comment, “What are you saying!”

Yet the significant outcome of still-mind meditation  is that we become easier with how reality is, and at the same time, we become easier to live with.

Posted in Article, Meditation, Non-dualism, Reality-Based Spirituality, Universal Consciousness | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

2019 going going…. nearly 2020

What a fabulous day to finish the year and the decade!

With fires burning so much of Australia, we in Melbourne are blessed with a mild sunny day with cool sweet air today after a scorcher yesterday.  Our good fortune does nothing for those who have been affected by the fires, some who have lost homes or are relatives of those who lost their lives.  Such sadness and such sweetness – difficult for the mind to reconcile.

For me, the personal self that experiences the swings of fortune and misfortune, you might know that the last 18 months have been a turbulent time of poor health owing to cardiac problems.  But on this last day of 2019, I am excited to let you know that I FEEL WELL!! In fact, today I feel very well. That might change  tonight, or tomorrow, or in five years’ time!

What will 2020 bring?  Who knows?  I can tell  you with some degree of certainty about what I will be doing over the year. (See below)  And I can tell you that the only absolute certainty is that in the long run, there is the exit door, beyond which the personal self is dissolved into the ineffable.

The beauty of it is that today and now, and perhaps tomorrow, is the whole of personal life.  The future is a conjecture and the past is memories, merely clusters of neurons that only fire up when some trigger touches them.

And so, 2020

I have never experienced a year that ends with duplicated digits as it only happens once a century (1919 was the last).  I suppose no one else presently alive has either. I love the sound of 2020!  Cheers to you for the new year, the new decade, the once in a century year, and the new you. You re-create yourself moment by moment.


Plan for 2020

WORKSHOP ON STRESS: how it arises, what your vulnerabilities are, and starting to do something about it  2nd FEBRUARY


LEARN STILL-MIND MEDITATION AND MINDFULNESS starts Wednesday 5th February through to 11th March

DIPLOMA OF MINDFULNESS AND MEDITATION Meditation teacher training starts Sunday 1st March

That should keep me busy enough through the first term. I’d love to see you at some of these programs !

SECOND TERM:  a workshop on Handling Manipulations (and refusing to be a manipulator yourself) ; another Learn Still-mind Meditation and Mindfulness; maybe a Learn Resilience 6-week program; and a workshop in practice, for those who have learnt Meditation or Resilience

Lovely Danni


and  all year   YOGA – taught by the lovely Danni Brown

Monday nights at 8.00 pm

STARTING SOON Daytime yoga – Thursday at  11.30 am




Posted in Article, Conversations with the Swami | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Interview – Background notes – President Yoga Australia

Rane and Jo from Flowerarts wanted to interview me as 2nd President of Yoga Australia. They sent me some questions to answer for background notes.  The interview meandered away from the notes from time to time.  The podcast is conversational, but these notes are probably more considered. See which you like best!  The podcast is here

Rane and Jo

Swami Shantananda was kind enough to share some notes with us, which she references during our conversation. They are included here for completeness, and some great reading.

Can you tell us about your background?

I grew up Catholic. I was a very good Catholic girl. In year 12 we learnt a little bit of introductory Theology which interested me very much, whereas most of my classmates couldn’t have cared less about it.

Also in year 12, the magazine the Women’s Weekly (which was weekly then, and was a large sized publication at that time) included little pull-out booklet on this new thing call yoga.

I don’t recollect that there was anything about meditation or the history of yoga in it, but it was full of fantastic stretches and bends. I was a klutz on the athletics field but I just loved this new way of bending and stretching my body. Looking back I can see that it would have been better to have had a teacher for some of those asanas.

Next year when we had left school a friend found a yoga teacher and we began going to yoga classes. Still no meditation in any of the classes but I loved them, and as I shifted around from place to place later on, I found a yoga class pretty well wherever I was. There were the occasional gaps I suppose, but yoga has been a constant in my life since I was 16.

It was not for another 17 years that I learnt that yoga was traditionally and properly more about meditation and unitary consciousness than it was about exercises, even if those asanas and exercises maintain bodily health for rest of the work of yoga

Who were your key teachers?

I’m pretty sure my first teacher was a German lady who taught from a room in Balwyn in an L-shaped room, and she would sit at the corner of the two arms of the L. She was Iyengar-trained.

The only other teachers I have a clear memory of are a teacher at Warragul where I was living – she was the only yoga teacher that there was in Warragul, and so I went to her classes twice a week until I decided to take training myself from Joy Spencer.

The other yoga teacher that really made an impression on me was a woman called Pam – no idea of her surname but she taught at Mangala Studios at Carlton a long time ago. She was the only teacher that I had who had ever included a real meditation session as part of the class.

In all the years that I had been going to yoga until I did find out about meditation 17 years later, I left home, got married, had children and the ups and downs of domestic life. The yoga really didn’t teach me anything about how to live those experiences with anything other than I already came to yoga with. It taught me nothing about contentment, or being a good mother, or relating well …I certainly loved the yoga but the fact that meditation was missing from it I think was extraordinary.

I found out about meditation when I went to a “yoga foundation” which didn’t teach any asana! Or rather asana was the position that you sat for meditation.

So I began to explore. I meditated regularly and also began to study. I read all the yoga literature could lay my hands on, and in fact plunged into a great deal of Eastern philosophy and from there, quantum physics (as much as was published for the layperson with no maths!), and finally began to get a sense of the story of how yoga in the west came to be as minimal as it was, or perhaps still is. Just exercise classes with a bit of focused breathing?

How did you become involved in Yoga Australia?

Someone enrolled in my yoga class for only one term. Well, I thought she was pretty good at it, which surprised me because most of the people who came to suburban yoga classes were rather average. This one had great skill in Asana and finally she told me that she was a yoga teacher herself. And that some people were getting a yoga Association together and asked me if I would come along. I was nominated for the first committee and voted in. In my introduction to myself I think I quoted in Sanskrit the definitional line of the yoga sutras, haha, which probably surprised a few people back then, though many more people might be able to do that, now.

Were you playing a different role within Yoga Australia before becoming a president?

I was an ordinary committee member in that first year of the association, and we had a lot of work to do because we were establishing the parameters of what the association could be and the ideas that it was going to espouse. There was quite a bit of argee bargee between various members of the first committee. I was a noisy and sometimes rude voice for the spirituality and meditative aspects of traditional yoga. It was good training for me in articulating the point when others had no comprehension of what you might be getting at.

When did you become president of Yoga Australia? What was the process like? How long were you the president of Yoga Australia?

Well, I was the second president so I suppose that was 19 years ago that I became president and I was president for 2 years and so 17 years ago that I finished. The presidency had in the first place been intended to be one year and Jose Goossens had it for one year. That really wasn’t enough. In the early days of an association there is so much to do and it has no history except what you’re creating and so it’s not like an established Association that just requires maintaining. I think early on probably every president needed at least 2 years maybe 3. Anyway we changed it to 2 years in my time. I don’t know what the tenure is now.

Why did you take on the role?

I took on the role because a) I wanted to help the association to succeed. There was a terrible moment when we wondered if enough people would re-enrol after the first year to allow it to continue. And b) I wanted the Association to be fully representative of what yoga is, rather than be motivated by fear that people wouldn’t understand the historic and meditative aspects of Yoga.

What were the biggest challenges you found in the role?

The first big challenge was to get everybody on the same page about what yoga is. Maybe there never will be 100% agreement about that. But I certainly wanted to make sure that yoga was not simply presented as a series of exercises and that we had to allow for a sense of the traditional meditative and even spiritual purpose of yoga. And from the early days of Yoga coming into Australia – by the Women’s Weekly, for instance – that aspect was not commonly known, and so there had to be an explicit focus on it.

The other was manpower. There was so much to do and the committee members were all busy. What I would have given to have a staff and a budget! As we were all volunteers …well I don’t think it moved as fast as it could have, but we did a lot all the same.

What do you feel were your greatest successes?

Two things

One is that the association did embrace yoga as a bigger discipline than simply stretching and bending. That led directly to the second great achievement I think that the association made at that time, which was to see off an attempt by the fitness industry – supported by the government of the day – to appropriate yoga teacher training to the fitness industry.

Since yoga was beginning to come into gyms, the fitness bodies thought they ought to be able to train their own yoga teachers.

We would have had a great deal of trouble saying “No, you can’t do that” if yoga had been reduced by our own selves simply to exercise. It was wonderful that we had centuries of prior experience and teaching to support our own role in training and to deny it to the fitness industry.

Are you still connected to Yoga Australia?

No, after I had handed on the baton I decided to leave it to those who were then holding the baton. The secretary of my committee however, Sarasvati Sally Dawson, continued as secretary in the association for a number of years afterwards.

When did you become a swami? What prompted that decision? What was that process like?

A long time before I took sannyas my Guru had told me that I would become a Swami. That was not possible at the time that he said that it, either for me or from his own perspective. Then 10 years ago he said “Now it’s time” so I did!

In my lineage you don’t volunteer to be a swami or apply to be a swami, you wait to be invited by your teacher and when you’re invited it’s unmannerly to say no.

I accepted for the spiritual depth which that sort of commitment takes you to. The initiation happened in India – a day of Brahmin rituals and then the “secret” initiation before dawn the following morning.

I came home with a bald head, and very skinny, too, as I caught a tropical disease while I was there. Very cleansing!!

I see that you have done some of your meditation training with Ian Gawler and became a founding secretary of the Gawler foundation. We’ve both had a wonderful and deeply healing experience staying at the Gawler retreat following Rane’s cancer treatment. Would you like to share some of your own experiences with his philosophy and approach?

I hope Rane is feeling well!

I think I did my yoga teacher training with Joy Spencer and my meditation teacher training with Ian in the same year …

Ian is very charismatic. The way he helped people to heal was partly by his own example in having come back from the brink of life to the fullness of life, even though missing one leg (and now one lung as well, I believe)

Mostly what he did was to put his clients into a meditation state. He would take them through a guided visualisation – a method I eventually stopped using – so he would lead them to find a safe place or something like that, but then when he stopped talking, because of the quality of his voice and his charisma, they would slip into a deep still meditation.

I don’t know whether he attributed the mental process of visualising healing (eg the safe space), or whether it was the stillness, that he thought was the most healing aspect of what he did. In his own case, he learnt meditation from Dr Ainslie Meares, who accepted him as a patient on condition that he undertook to meditate in stillness 3 hours per day.

Something else that he used to do was to get people into a dyad, one person being completely still and non-responsive and the other person talking, and then swap sides – the point being that the ones speaking could just let their thoughts rise to the surface and be heard without being moderated by the person listening. Quite a process really. In the dyadic discussions there might be two questions, for instance at first, What is the downside of getting cancer? and then the other “What is the benefit of getting cancer?”

You’d think being asked to talk about “the benefit of getting cancer” would be distressing! In fact it made people do a double-take on what cancer is, and began to restructure their idea of their illness, and their life, probably.

He was a very young man when he published his first book You Can Conquer Cancer. He may have had some regrets about that as he matured, because as he did get older he had the recognition that people do die. He even would say jokingly with his cancer patients that “Even cancer patients can fall under a bus, haha…” So he revised his idea about living forever.

And sometime during his life he took a guru himself – the Tibetan lama Sogyal Rinpoche – and I suspect that as he matured his life became more directly spiritual, rather than incidentally spiritual.

I think that’s something that yoga / meditation really does for people. It’s that as you do mature as you get past enjoying just the stretching and bending, and you do get past thinking that you are going to live indefinitely, and you shift from futurist thinking into present moment awareness.

If you have taken the help of the deeper processes of the yoga tradition and shifted into deep stillness where you can observe the behaviours of your mind, rather than wanting to gain something for yourself, deep contentment comes with life just as it is and others just as they are.

You have a lot of academic philosophy in your background – what are the differences and similarities you’ve noticed between the academic approach and the yogic path of exploration?

As a teenager wandering off to university I was very glad that I did a lot of Philosophy – a major and a sub-major, and later some bridging work towards an MA (though I abandoned that to return to Marketing).

I was glad of the philosophy because, while it didn’t teach me what to think, it’s certainly taught me how to think, critically and analytically.

But it wasn’t until I began to meditate that I learnt to let go of thoughts quite deliberately. I was intrigued also by what I heard from my teachers. And I did so much study! I read whatever I could get my hands on in terms of Yoga, Zen Buddhism, Christianity – Meister Eckart, for instance – I read everything that I could find looking for what that difference was between the Eastern view and what I was so familiar with in Western philosophy. Because there certainly was a difference.

Philosophy was heavily based in an ancient Greek world view which was intrinsically dualistic – good/bad, right/wrong, just/unjust, for instance – and nothing in between …and what philosophy never pointed out was that those dualities are mental processes rather than existent in reality.

The most perplexing duality is Self-Other, but somehow the Greek philosophers never noticed that one. So a philosophy that points to non-duality (Yoga and Eastern philosophy in general) was very perplexing and interesting and absorbing. The quest satisfied me on every possible dimension, including the intellect. It eventually changes your outlook about yourself completely. And therefore it changes your outlook on others, too.

Rather than a right-wrong duality, there is room for maybe, both-and and neither-nor. Those phrases, you might notice, are inclusive, while right-wrong, good-bad, etc, are exclusive. Exclusive thinking is the basis of all judgmental attitudes, in individuals and in society.

I like to think it’s a bit like the difference between a mechanistic view of the world – deterministic (an initial cause has a necessary effect) boring and predictable – and Chaos Theory, which is still deterministic but never mechanistic, and so unpredictable that it’s always interesting. Both-and… both what you can conceptualise and that which you cannot yet conceptualise, perhaps.

You have written extensively on the Yoga Sutras – would you like to talk about that?

Yes. 3 things happened for me almost at the same time. I learnt to meditate, I met my Guru and I found Deshpande’s interpretation of the Yoga Sutras, which closely followed the Sanskrit of the Sutras.

Many commentaries on the Yoga Sutras rest on conventional notions of reality and morality – very dualistic – rather than looking at the Sanskrit, the structure of the sutras through the four chapters, and Patañjali’s definition of what yoga is, given in the first 5 sutras.

Without paying attention to what he really says (the Sanskrit) and the structure of the sutras as they proceed through to Kaivalya, and the first five sutras where he gives his definitions, I think you miss what the Sutras are really about.

There are queries about whether Patanjali ever existed and whether the sutras were in the form that they are now when they were first written. I don’t care!

As they are now, they are a brilliant expose of something that most people simply miss, unless they’ve come from a discipline like Zen or unless they pay good attention to the Sutras.

Here’s a quick snippet

In the first sutra Patañjali says he’s going to talk about unitary consciousness, Union, nothing else. If there was something else that he was going to talk about it could have said so then, but he didn’t, he said I’m going to talk about Union or unitary consciousness, and then nothing else. Not morality, or happiness, or the eight limbs, but about Yoga – union, a unitary state.

In the second sutra he defines what that Yoga is – a state when thoughts have stopped. That is, he is talking about a state of consciousness without cognition. You can dwell on that for a bit.

In the third sutra he says that in such a state the seer – that is “awareness”, which is not the same as the thinking mind – is in its natural state.

In the fourth sutra he says that all the rest of the time except when there’s consciousness without cognition – all the rest of the time – you mistake what you’re thinking for what you are. If that is so then you’re also supposing that what you think about the world and other people is the truth of them, too, when that cannot be so.

In fact thoughts are only a bundle of neurons firing off, and cannot be existent outside the functioning of those neurons. Identification of self and the world through thinking is intrinsically unreal.

And then his other enormously potent yet ultra-concise statement, in the fifth sutra, he says, all of your thoughts – all of your thoughts – are polarised. They are afflicted or non-afflicted. You like or dislike everything whatsoever that the mind’s perceptions bring to notice. And all the polarities and dualities of Greek philosophy come from the mind’s tendency to polarise its perspectives. There are perceptions we associate with liking and some with not-liking, and that’s where your ideas of good and bad come from, and your ideas of self and other. Your ideas of friends and enemies all come from the polarizing nature of the Mind.

Wow. And so….?

I’ve really enjoyed delving into your blog while preparing for this interview – is writing part of your process when it comes to exploring philosophy and life. Or do you tend to write in response to a need that you notice – like something students ask about in class?

Mostly I just like to express myself. I get a bee my bonnet and I like to write something. Sometimes it’s in response to something somebody has said or a misunderstanding that I think someone has, but often it’s just me thinking out loud a bit. When I was much younger I used to write dialogues with myself to sort things out – now I write a blog.

You have also been been teaching meditation, and training teachers of meditation and of yoga since 1988 – did you see much overlap in what you covered in your life skills course to your yoga and meditation classes?

Practicing Yoga since 1964, practising meditation since 1982, acquiring training in 1988, Teaching since 1989, training teachers since 1999.

It was all a very natural progression from dissatisfaction with the business world, mainly marketing. At 40 (1988), I finally knew what that what I wanted to do was take yoga teacher training and meditation teacher training. And then psych studies when I began to teach meditation. But dissatisfaction with the commercial world rested in a large degree on my philosophical thinking since much earlier in life.

So much of these practices are about navigating our lives in a skillful and meaningful way – do you have and insights to share from all your years teaching teachers?

Something that was difficult early on was that people would come to training really only wanting the certificate at the end, because back then yoga and meditation tended to be what people picked up, and they also tended then to be a bit defensive and protective of their view of themselves as a teacher already. One of the things that the Association brought about was a recognition that some training is a pretty good idea.

For those then and now who understand that there is something to learn from a course or from a very experienced other teacher, an older teacher perhaps, is that you handle other people much better when you know better about yourself. And the best way to get to know yourself better is to meditate and become able to observe the processes of your mind and see it without any defensiveness at all.

Now, not everybody can do that. But for those who can, life changes enormously. Their idea of what it is to be oneself becomes the investigation, rather than “what’s wrong with other people.”

“The way other people are” then becomes simply the state of the world, rather than something that you have to judge them for and fix up in them.

Even for those who can only do it a little bit become a bit softer, easier to live with, more able to see another’s point of view.

On the other hand of course, older, more experienced teachers who have never done such work at all just pass on the prejudices and lack of insight that they’ve had all their lives and nothing much changes for the student.

What is the most common thing you see people struggle with?

In the first place, trainees tend to start off with the feeling that they’re not good enough, they don’t know enough. They might feel that they don’t know enough anatomy (which is generally true!) They can’t do perfect asana in some respects, without realising that the Yoga teacher does not have to be the most brilliant one in the room (if the Yoga teacher had to be The Best at every asana, there would be a constant diminishment towards mediocrity, wouldn’t there?) They feel that they will simply not be able to meditate for an hour a day, something that we ask them to do – which in fact is easy…you just sit until it is time to get up.

In training meditation teachers, it is that people start with ideas about what meditation is that are often one-dimensional or outright foolish. Eg they might feel that it is all about learning to forgive. Or someone else might think it is solely about getting off stress. Learning a bit about the history and range of what meditation and mindfulness might be helps. And practice certainly helps. I think it is very strange when people want to teach others how to meditate and they don’t have a solid meditation practice themselves. Once they begin to practise a sneaky understanding creeps up on them that meditation is something to do with how people see themselves, and they get off the ego-centrism of what that view might be.

I loved your article about the yoga retreat you ran – where you planned the program with a ‘traditional retreat’ in mind – with a certain amount of austerity and early morning meditation. However many of the people who booked in were expecting more of a yoga holiday – it sounds like you handled the situation with grace and humor.


However it raises some interesting questions about the issues that arise when you bring these traditional practices from another culture into our world today, especially with ‘wellness’ as a thriving industry.

Yes, it always is an issue and the best way of handling it is to have a ready communication that points out that what appears to be ancient and cultural is in fact about the living, breathing person sitting beside you, and about the one that they’re sitting beside – which is yourself. To understand that these are human investigations, not ancient civilisations or strange cultures. It is just that our society and our culture have been a bit slow to catch up on what some other culture cottoned onto a long time ago.

I have been promising to finish my book Path through the Yoga Sutras since I started years ago, and if I keep procrastinating, I’ll run out of life before I finish the book! Part of my procrastination is that I would like to put it in everyday terms for just that reason – because Patañjali’s insights into the human experience are just as pertinent today as they were then, and the members of his community a couple of thousand years ago were not intrinsically different from those around us today.

However, he was writing for a Sanskrit-speaking audience and for some of the terms that he uses, like asmita, for instance – we have no such equivalent term, because we been slower to get to this investigation.

Yet whether in Sanskrit or English, it is still about “Who the hell do you think you are?” So instead of the single term asmita I might have to say, “the mind’s sense of itself”. Instead of draṣṭuḥ, I might have to say Consciousness without Cognition.

But how can I give Patañjali his credit if I did put it entirely into English terms that every other Australian could easily comprehend and not confuse with something that is ancient and foreign? It is a dilemma for me.

Cultural appropriation is a really nuanced subject and I’d love to hear your perspective – how do we honour these traditions while being authentic as teachers, and sharing in a way that is relevant to our students today?

The thing is that I do not feel that what is common to all humans can be culturally specific or stolen from another culture. What is appropriate though is to honour the teachers who first expressed it – and that generally does require a humility towards other cultures.

The word Zen is a corruption via Chinese of the Sanskrit word dhyāna, meditation. So a Zen meditator is a meditation meditator! If we’re going to talk about cultural appropriation, then Japanese Zen has appropriated the meditation teachings of an ancient Indian community so successfully that its Sanskrit origins are forgotten. But that happens because humans of all cultures recognise what Zen has to offer about the human condition. And the human condition is universal.

It would be a start if we all translated the word “yoga”. As you know it is a Sanskrit word, not an English word, and its meaning is “union” or “unitary consciousness”. But how many yoga teachers would put on their sign that what they teach is Unitary Consciousness? How many gyms would offer classes in Unitary Consciousness as an add-on for the gym junkies’ subscription? It would be a good start, wouldn’t it, in restoring the cultural propriety of yoga, if we translated the singular word by which we appropriated it.

But then we would also have to acknowledge that asana, the stretch and bend of yoga, is just a small part of what yoga is really all about.

What do you feel are the greatest challenges for YA moving forward?

Probably to stay relevant. Information is global now and it’s easy enough for people to find out almost anything online. They can work out how to get insurance online, too, whereas in the early days of the association the requirement for professional insurance was membership of a peak professional body, and that helped grow our membership.

I think to stay relevant is quite a difficult task because it means having contact with members and wanting members to participate. The conferences have become perhaps a little too formal and estranged from most yoga teachers. Grass roots activity is much harder to get happening.

Where do you see Yoga Australia in the next 10 – 20 years?

I don’t know what to say here. Probably it will become more and more distant from the membership, that is in the nature of professional bodies, and the leaders tend to become professional committee leaders. I would like it to remain a working body amongst yoga teachers in the suburbs.

Insofar as they are also a lobby group, I would again like the lobby to be for the working teachers in the suburbs – and avoid a push towards more and more formal academic study. The last thing I would like is for yoga teachers to need a BA or BSC in Yoga. Somehow academia tends to drive out understanding and awareness and replace it with argument and hubris, and associations can potentially work against the best interests of the majority of their members but in the self-interest of those at the management level.

And I would like them also not to lobby for Government accreditation of Yoga teachers. That would be so similar to the Chinese government “accrediting” the next Dalai Lama.

At present, while there are some Govt Accredited yoga courses, there is no such thing as a “government accredited yoga teacher”, and in my view, that is a good thing. There are only teachers who have come through a GA course, but the Govt does not accredit them or keep any register of yoga teachers, nor should they, as the Govt has no access to the extraordinary world view of non-dualist living.

And there are issues with how GA is conferred even on the courses that run them.

I think the most effective teachers of Yoga are those that understand more about self from their practice, who meditate and do their asana, rather than those whose conceptualisations inevitably leave them stranded in the conceptual rather than the actual.

I’d like the Association to keep its feet in its grass roots.

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What I Have Learnt from Teaching Meditation

Teaching meditation is very rewarding!  Warms the heart and pleases the soul.

Teaching meditation is very rewarding, and in my experience (read my  Meditation CV here) over the decades, I have mixed with some lovely people and almost always have had the pleasure of watching  them catch on, and seeing them report better relationships and an easier sense of life.  And they invariably say they will continue to meditate… I hope they do.

But there are some occasional experiences that are different from most.  These are the standouts!

I’ve learnt….

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Beliefs have no place in law

Beliefs have no place in law. They are just a bunch of thoughts and they do not establish anything about truth or reality. They ought to have no protection in law.

Religious beliefs are simply a bundle of preferential thinking. Some religious people may be loving, kind and a beneficial influence in society.

However, any belief that rests on divine revelation is categorically untrue.

Did God give the world  10 commandments? No, somebody said that he did. Wasn’t it Moses that said so? No, somebody said that Moses said it. And even if it was Moses who said it, that is  a man said it, not God. Did the Buddha say there were four noble truths?

No, somebody said that he did.  The Buddha left nothing written, and at the time of his life he was not even called the Buddha, rather, he was called Gautama. And he didn’t speak Pali, the language of the Buddhist scriptures –  it had not evolved into a language in his lifetime.  He probably spoke like a northern yokel when he went and mixed with other yogis in Benares, the city of religious scholarship on the Ganges.

As with Christianity, somebody said, “All of this is what the teacher said.” And in  Christianity and Buddhism, a Canon of accepted doctrines was developed on the premise of someone said he said. The games of “pass the message”, whispers, taken for evidentiary statements and believed as truth – and it can only ever go back to a man said that a man said that a man said that the Buddha said. A man said that this is what Christ said.  Even though Jesus did not speak Latin or Greek, the gospel writers who had never known him did, and the canon of teachings came down in history in Latin. And he was not called Christ (The Anointed One) in his lifetime any more than Gautama was called the Buddha (the One with the Awakened Intellect) in his lifetime – Gautama who never spoke Pali, though the later writers, borrowing authority from their ascriptions to him, did.

Reliance on religious texts always invokes a slippery sleight of hand by which what is human appears to be divine.  The limiting factor of someone said is magicked into Revealed Truth – that which makes any repudiation inherently blasphemous and sinful.

Would you like to look at a few beliefs?

Here is a line from Psalm 42 of King David, which used to be quoted in the old Latin Mass

“Quia tu es, Deus, fortitudo mea: quare me repulisti, et quare tristis incedo, dum affligit me inimicus?” (Where are you, oh God, my strength? Why have you rejected me, and why do I go about sorrrowful while hateful people afflict me?)

King David speaking. (In Latin!!).  Don’t you feel like giving him a good talking to about taking responsibility for his own moods and actions?  Oh no, for the believer, it is all because an invisible divine Someone is supposed to be on his side and is not doing his part to bring down his enemies, so of course he has a right to be dejected and feel abandoned.

Beliefs about the immaculate conception?

Joseph was going to marry Mary but found she was pregnant.  When he understood that God had made her pregnant with His son, no sex involved, then everything was A-OK.

Well, in those days a pregnant fiancée would be handed back to her family. Unusually for the time, Joseph honoured the engagement.  Two other very reasonable possibilities suggest themselves for this unusual fidelity. One is that Joseph and Mary didn’t wait till the wedding day for intimacy, and made up a preposterous story to cover it – maybe tongue in cheek.  Another is that Mary’s father molested her, and Joseph saved her from her incestuous father. Perhaps that is why we hear about Mary’s mother – Anne – but never about her father.   This would make some sense of Jesus saying that he was the son of the father – that his father was the father of his mother.

Now, why do you suppose that people would come at me and say this is blasphemy?  Oh, because somebody said that a fantasy about conception was divine truth! and we like to believe any fantasy more than an unbearable reality, that Mary gave birth to a human child after having sex with a human man.

Beliefs about the Virgin Birth

To be a virgin you must have an intact hymen. As there was no sex in the Immaculate Conception, what about the hymen (proof of virginity) when the Divine Baby was born?  Can you believe there has been serious theological debate as to how Mary retained her hymen after giving birth to Jesus? Because without it she would not be a virgin.

This is where beliefs take you – they take you into idiocy, and the more idiotic the harsher the penalties for the blasphemy of pointing it out.  Showing the holes in belief used to be a short route to a place on top of a bonfire.

The Ascension  and the Assumption

One of the beliefs  required for Catholic faith is in the ascension of Jesus and the assumption of Mary.  Jesus by his own power ascended up through the sky into heaven.  His mother Mary, being mortal, was “assumed”, that is, taken up by God’s divine power.  Wouldn’t you just love to have seen the bodies of Jesus and Mary floating up into the sky? Because where is heaven if not above the clouds? To be a Catholic, you are required to believe something that is beyond comical when you envision it.

The Pope

What about the Pope?  A word which means “father”, etymologically.  Our papa.  And not only our loving father but the Vicar of Christ.

Because the word Vicar has so easily become associated for us with “the one who conducts religious services in local churches”, we forget that the word vicar has the same meaning as its adjective, vicarious, “acting in place of another.”  The Pope is the one who stands in place of Jesus and has a direct line with God the Father.  Are you blinking in disbelief?  Well, of course, you would be blinking, in  astonishment!  A couple of dozen very old men, the College of Cardinals, who worked their way up through the church to have great esteem and quite a luxurious lifestyle to go with it, despite their teachings about the virtue of poverty, choose another old man, and tell the rest of the world that this man is the Pope, the Vicar of Christ – someone said that God guides their choice of the one who stands in place of Jesus Himself.

Jesus, by the way, has saved the entire world from their sins so that they can be happy with the Father for ever in Heaven – so long as they do what the religious teachers and texts tell them, that is, or if they are good people but who have not had the chance to become Catholic.

And the Pope, in his seat (ex cathedra) as the Vicar of Christ, can make pronouncements and judgments which are infallible – cannot be wrong and can never be disputed – because it is not his own opinion, but rather  God speaking through the Pope when he speaks ex cathedra.

How preposterous.

It is absurd to to enshrine in law  any status or privilege related to belief at all.  Would you like to hear a bit more about  Christianity? Try Pentecostalism. Or more about Buddhism?  Or Islam? Or Hinduism? What about Voodooism?  Rastafarianism? Judaism? or Wicca? What about the differences between various branches of Christianity, or Buddhism?

What about my beliefs?

You might ask about my beliefs.  I certainly have beliefs.  From my earliest days I have felt a sense of presence – I can’t remember any time that I have not –  and I have some beliefs about that, which  may or may not explain the reality of my experience.  I have taken sannyas in the Shaivite stream of Hinduism.  I have beliefs and practices. I wear orange clothes to remind myself of my purpose. But beliefs, whether mine or yours, do not establish what reality is. And the last thing that I would ask from the rest of the community is to require them to pass laws to protect my beliefs.  I would query why any one else would want that for their own beliefs.

Actions speak louder than words

What I do say is, let’s see how people behave.  Let’s see if their beliefs broaden their outlook, and give them a greater capacity for reality-based reasoning rather than magical thinking, or whether their beliefs make them narrow-minded instead of open to the variety of experience.  Let’s respect the behaviours that bring peace and love and kindness into the world.  Pope Francis might be an example, the Dalai Lama might be an example, of those whose behaviours do in fact bring kindness into the world. But don’t ask them what they believe, or say that their beliefs ought to have legitimacy in law.  Respect what they do, and what they bring about, and let that be sufficient.

And if a religious belief brings about division, judgment of others, unkind or hateful behaviour towards others,  or discrimination in employment or accessibility to goods and services, call it for what it is – self-serving self-righteous twaddle, not divinely ordained belief that bestows entitlement on believers.

And don’t bother me with your beliefs, either. Show me your behaviours and tell me about your experience in living peacefully with the rest of the community. That will show me much more about your relationship with reality than your beliefs ever will.

And keep beliefs and a “right to believe” out of the statute books.

Mataji’s Meditation Background

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The Bishop and Me

As an intelligent Catholic girl from a poor family, when I was 17, I began studies at the University of Melbourne, the first girl in the district to go to university, and one of only 2% of tradesmen’s daughters who went to university in those days.

The Bishop and me

One of my first year subjects was Philosophy A, taught by Dr Eric D’Arcy who went on to chair the Philosophy Dept at MU. At that time, Dr D’Arcy was also Fr D’Arcy, parish priest of Parkville, whose church career saw him become Bishop of Sale and then Archbishop of Hobart.

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Christmas Resentment

Years ago my yoga teacher at the time invited us to a Christmas break up after the last class for the year.  We all sat round and had a nice time, and of course the talk got around to Christmas plans.  And then one of the women, who’d been quite amiable till then, suddenly went into full Christmas Resentment.  Her face twisted into an angry grimace…

…and she began to speak very bitterly about Christmas Day coming up.  She said she was going to have about 15 people at her place, most of whom she didn’t like (relatives, that is – either on her side or her husband’s side) and she was going to be left to do all the work, including cleaning the house, doing all the cooking, and all the cleaning up afterwards.  And then she was going to have to do the packing for the family to go away early next morning on Boxing Day.

Well, I – being always the undiplomatic one – said, “why don’t you refuse to do it?”

Do you feel resentment lurking in your heart at Christmas?

Most of us have experienced Christmas stress and Christmas resentments.  And the TV ads that show happy families at a big table having fun and enjoying each other’s company is rarely the case in real life.  Some have managed Christmas Resentment eventually by – yes! – refusing, giving up the charade of giving pointless gifts with money that you can’t afford, or giving so cheaply that you feel ashamed to give, whatever the present is, when it’s all you can afford for anybody.

And some have given away the Christmas gathering altogether.

Personally I think that’s fine.  Once upon a time gifts were handmade, or a gift was something that was of value to yourself, that you owned, and that you chose to give to a loved one or to a dear friend.  The current notion of grabbing something from anywhere off-the-shelf and paying somebody else for it, even for the wrapping, and all this by people who mostly don’t even believe in Christmas as a religious festival anymore, really is ridiculous, isn’t it?

In my case, my much loved long-term friend, partner, former husband and beautifully supportive person in my life, has his actual birthday on 25th  December, while Jesus was certainly not born on 25th  December.  So we tend to have a small Christmas Eve lunch for family and invite a couple of close friends, and it is a sweet time.  And then on 25th  December we celebrate Rob’s birthday – just us, his own family.

Perhaps that’s easy for me now that I’ve been a Swami for 10 years – people are a little uncertain about what to expect from me.  And I learnt to handle the stresses of Christmas much better years ago when I learnt to meditate.  With meditation, little by little, perception changes.  For me, quite a long time ago, there was a shift out of the programmed ideas about Christmas and family that had been instilled without my knowledge or consent, and I recognised the difference between loving consent and programmed behaviour.  With meditation came insight and choice.  With insight and choice came a more realistic understanding of how resentments arise from doing something as an unchallenged duty when so much of you is resisting and seeing it only as an imposition.

What about you?  If Christmas is sweet and lovely and loving, and there is a spirit of generosity not only from you, but also amongst the people who share Christmas with you, with nothing being repressed, no passive rage, if there is is full-hearted sharing of gifts and the work entailed in putting on Christmas festivities amongst your family –  the close and the extended relatives – and if Christmas for you includes a joyful spiritual connection with the great being that was Jesus, then fine… Enjoy.

If you feel totally imposed on, resentful, resistant, angry, bitter….  Then gosh,  don’t you think there might be a better alternative?  You can read my last year’s  Christmas reflection, on ways to handle Christmas stress, if you like… but what else can you do?

What do you think?

PS: or you could learn still-mind meditation with me, if you like – learn how to remain still in the midst of things. Online 13th January for 6 weeks.

Or come to the Retreat in early February, to settle again after the main rush has subsided.

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Anger…meditation…mindfulness… or Resilience?

When was the last time you were angry?  Finding out about why we stress out is just the best thing we can do for ourselves. Learning how to deal with anger and stress is good for our health and wellbeing, and better for the people around us, too.

Anger is a stress response. Your pulse went up and so did your blood pressure. Hormones flooded your body. You may have felt hot or flushed.

Can you remember what caused it..?  How long did it take you to calm down again? (That is, how long until the body turned off the hormonal response, your pulse returned to  normal and your blood pressure lowered to a healthier rate…) Which is the best way to handle it – by meditating, practising mindfulness….or maybe by finding a way not to be angry in the first place?

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A Night in Hospital

Feeling ill after a week of wildly fluctuating pulse rates… weak, cold, poor concentration,  feeling so unwell… loved ones insisted on taking me to Emergency Department (ED) at the local hospital.  Me expecting to have to wait at least four hours.  But no… triage put me straight into care. And to my astonishment, kept me overnight.  So … my night progressed with being “plugged in” to monitors and automatically timed blood pressure machines squeezing my arm, and an IV catheter (which was never used) plugged into my other arm, right in the curve of my elbow.  It was quite sore by the morning. And so many questions, constant questioning!  And odd experiences…. Continue reading

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