The Sky Is Always There: Surviving a Kidnapping in Chechnya ~ Camilla Carr, Jonathan James

In April 1997 Camilla Carr and Jon James set off as volunteers in a £500 lada stacked high with toys, games, footballs, paints and a parachute. After working for two months setting up and teaching in a rehabilitation centre for war-traumatised children watching the children begin to smile and play again they were kidnapped.

There followed fourteen months of incarceration in homes that varied from a concrete box with no natural light or fresh air to a pink tromp l oil bedroom via a sauna and various cellars. They experienced everything from rape and mental torture to moments of compassion and kindness. They survived by using tools such as tai chi, yoga, meditation and humour; and through creating a dialogue with their captors, looking beneath their masks of fear and anger to reach the small flame of love and laughter unquenched by the demonising nature of war.

Camilla Carr and Jonathan James who married after their release and return to Britain are active participants in The Forgiveness Project, a touring exhibition and workshop which enables those who have been either victims or perpetrators of violence tell their stories and rebuild their lives. They live in Devon.

Camilla Carr & Jon James The Sky Is Always There. Interview by Iain McNay

Published on Mar 16, 2013

In 1997 Camilla and Jon drove to Chechnya to help set up a rehabilitation Centre for war-traumatized children in war-torn Grozny. Two months later they were kidnapped at gunpoint. For the next 14 months they were kept in basements with no natural light or fresh air. She was also raped. They tell their story, and how they survived by using meditation, Tai chi, Qigong and prayer circles. They wrote the book ‘The Sky Is Always There‘ as a kind of cathartic healing for themselves. Camilla says, ‘the captors could never touch my essence… my body is only a part of who I am. My spirit will always be free.’

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Sacred Activism: Activating the Divine Powers in Nature ~ Vedacharya David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri

There are many movements going on today that aim to change or improve the world in this time of global crisis. Almost everyone is encouraging us to become an activist in one form or another, for one cause or another. While I don’t doubt the necessity of this position, and have been an active for several causes myself, I wonder whether it is enough. Can anything we do as mere human beings take us out of the rut caused by the unsacred way in which we live, by our human centered way of life that tramples the world of nature around us and blinds us to the spirit beyond?

We mainly look to human agencies to help us or to improve the world. We look to politics to elect a better party or better leader to show us the way beyond the problems that politicians have caused. Or we look to economics for a better plan to use our resources or a way to more equitably distribute the wealth, though our business and economic leaders have shown themselves to be woefully shorted sighted in their actions. We want governmental help, charitable grants or media coverage for our cause in order to better promote it in society, though the government and media often seem to be making our problems worse. We think by changing human institutions and those who runs them that the world will also change.

If we do look to the spiritual realm, it is also usually to human agencies, human teachers and manmade, historical beliefs and human-centered dogmas. We try to save other people through our personal belief or conviction, as if making the majority of people follow a certain religious or spiritual formula that appeals to us will magically solve all other problems. If we call upon God, it is usually a rather human God, sometimes with notable political biases, and it is to favor our particular group and its interests that our prayers usually go forth, not to transcend our differences or to dissolve them in the Divine presence that is beyond all names and forms.

The fundamental problem – which is at the root of all our outer social and personal problems – is that we as human beings are asleep and insensitive to the sacred world in which we live. We do not honor Nature and the Divine powers at work within her ever changing currents. The result is that we do not honor each other or even honor ourselves, much less the greater non-human world. We don’t see the beauty of life as a whole; much less sense its deeper consciousness. We plunder and pillage nature in our search for our human happiness, pleasure, wealth and power, or at best make nature into an adornment for our self-aggrandizement.

In the commercial realm, everything is a commodity to buy or sell whose value will go up or down in an unpredictable manner. We are judged by what we own, earn or – worse yet in the age of credit cards – by what we owe, as if these numbers had some positive value and lasting significance for the real meaning of our lives. In the religious realm, the individual is commonly regarded as a soul to be harvested or a potential donor for a belief or an institution. We are judged by a religious label or name that puts us in a limited camp, not by a greater sense of unity with the universe that transcends all human definitions. We seem trapped in an outer show of superficial quantities in which our higher Self, which is more akin to the stars, is forgotten along with the living world around us.

The Volcano’s Voice

Recently I had the honor of being part of an ancient Hawaiian ritual to Pele, the Goddess of fire, the volcano Goddess, at cliff at the rim of the crater of Kilauea in Hawaii, the world’s most active volcano, which was steaming with sulfur. We were accompanied by representatives of the island’s spiritual elders who had a living lineage and connection to that Goddess power no human agency can ever control. One could feel oneself drawn into the crater almost palpable manner, as if one would gladly become a human offering to the Goddess.

The great Gods and Goddesses of geology, of the primal earth energies, were alive and one could sense them, smell them and almost touch them, their energies pervading the physical and the psychic air. These powers were sensitive and aware and could guide us to a deeper consciousness, peace and transcendence, if we could but leave our human identities and compulsions behind.

At that moment, one’s individual life, and the entire human world, seemed rather small and trifling, a brief lull in the midst of greater geological transformations that marked the land. One could sense yet more primeval powers at the origins of creation when the entire universe was a vast erupting ball of fire and great Deities looked over the beautiful inferno of light with timeless eyes, gliding through the currents with a bodiless joy and an unbounded energy that had no end.

Native peoples – to the extent that we still leave them to their original cultures – and the ancient world in general, reflect a sense of the sacred that allows them to honor every plant, animal, land formation, cloud or star. For them life is measured by the sacred time of nature’s rhythms. Every human action requires a prayer and a ritual to make it part of the greater sacred world. Such native cultures have largely been dehumanized and devitalized and are but a shadow of their former selves. But we can still sense the sacred moving in them and their traces on the land.

We continued along the crater’s rim and soon encountered the usual groups of tourists, who went in and out of their cars for a quick view of nature’s wonders. It was an odd sensation. One could still feel the ancient deities and the sacred mystery of the land, but the people one saw missed this altogether, floating in their personal thoughts oblivious that they were at the womb of the great Goddess herself. Of course, they saw the crater with their physical eyes but it was mainly a geological phenomenon or a photo opportunity, a memento of having been to the vacation paradise of the Hawaian islands.

Such modern people, largely divested of the sacred, seemed like shadows, though no doubt all were looking for something sacred to give meaning to their lives. One could sense the anguish of those who worshipped the volcano Goddess to see the sacred body of their mother trampled upon as a tourist curiosity. We did not see anyone else bow down to the Goddess, much less make her an offering, call out to her or hear her voice, though probably it echoed in the minds of many passerbys as a strange and unrecognizable background sound.

Sacred Activism

I don’t think we can really heal our planet or bring peace to society unless we reestablish our link to the sacred universe. This requires not just an ecological or artistic appreciation of nature but a recognition of the awesome consciousness and cataclysmic power that pervades the entire universe, making it into a single dynamic organism that we human beings are but a small part of. Connecting to the sacred is not a matter of a religious belief, joining the right church or having the right religious or spiritual identity. It is not just a matter of taking a few yoga classes, learning a meditation technique or chanting a mantra once in a while. It requires surrendering our human mind to the greater cosmic consciousness and energy, in which we lose our human selves and human identity altogether.

Perhaps the best way to begin this deeper healing is to honor the Divine powers in the world of nature around us. If we live in a land that has had a recent native tradition, we will find that most of the nearby sacred sites in nature are known to them and have been honored by them. We can follow their link. Otherwise we can follow our inner inspiration and look to the deeper consciousness behind the wonders of nature around us, which requires spending contemplative time around them away from the noise of the human world. Nature is our mother, not a commercial commodity to be exploited. She will speak to us if we call out to her, just as no real mother ever abandons her children.

We can awaken the sacred powers in our own environment. This can be done through flowers, aromas, incense, special waters, rocks and plants that abound around us. It will follow the movements of the seasons, the Moon, eclipses or special astrological combinations that connect us to the realm of cosmic and sacred time beyond all mundane chronologies. By making our lives sacred, we can change the world at a root level, and change our society in a way that no mere human institution can ever likely bring about of its own accord.

Above all, we need to honor the Goddess or Divine Mother, whose body is the world of nature. The Goddess is always awake. We are born through her power and at death her force will lead us to her greater reality. It is not a matter of awakening her but of awakening our connection to her, which makes us spiritually awake, which means beyond all manmade and limiting identities and propaganda.

To awaken the Goddess in one’s life, one needs a form. It can be an image or statue of the Goddess, or some natural object like a flower or plant, a special rock, the Moon. There is no formless worship of the Goddess unless it is first rooted in form. And she cannot truly be honored unless she is recognized as the mother of the entire universe.

For a yogic and world transforming spiritual activism, we need to reawaken the divine powers in nature that our spiritual slumber has removed us from. We need to restore the sacred sites of traditional peoples, even if this might involve removing modern buildings that have been erected over them. Our museums are filled with the desecrated and stolen sacred objects of many peoples and many lands. We should at least allow them to be honored, adorned and worshipped.

If we study the existing interpretations of traditional and non-western religions in our educational systems, we find a crude insensitivity that denigrates their sacred forms and practices according to our modern obsessions of sex, economics or politics, turning these doorways to the sacred into forms of ridicule, marks of the primitive, while it is our modern culture that is more truly lacking in sensitivity or higher intelligence to the cosmic forces. We need to reexamine these sacred traditions with respect to their elders, not to our erudition or technology.

Restoring Our Sacred Connection

Let us bring back all the Gods and Goddesses of all lands and countries, all times and all places, and their connection with the land, the waters and the sky as part of our daily life experience. Let us set aside scientific, psychological, and theological interpretations of what words cannot describe in the first place. Let us awaken to the Divine presence at the ground of existence, humble ourselves before it and live according to its grace. Let us be respectful of the Divine nature and beauty of every person, culture and tradition, even more so to those that are close to the land and without a voice in the world media or academia.

Make sure to awaken the Gods and Goddesses in yourself and in your own life, home, garden, family and community. It may be more important to awaken the Divine presence around us than to get out the vote for one cause or another or to make the best possible donation to a worthy cause. While it is good to marshal human resources in a caring direction, without bringing the Divine power of nature into the process, we may just be alienating ourselves further from the true wellsprings of life, creation and happiness. We may be just making another offering to the demon of the human mind and its endless conflicts and assertions.

For this natural awakening no preaching or moralizing, which is a sin against the Divine presence in each person, is necessary or even possible. The only thing that we really need to become cognizant of is the power of transformation inherent in life itself. The entire universe is a temple, starting with our own bodies. All our actions should be rituals or sacred actions. All our thoughts should be prayers and mantras. All our buildings should be temples, including our own homes, where the fire of the sacred should be kept burning bright in one way or another.

So awaken a deity in your life today. You can do it, and if you do it will give your life a meaning that will extend into the entire universe, not just Wall Street, Hollywood or Washington DC. Find what is most sacred in your environment, honor it and call out to it, infuse it with the life of your aspiration. Not only will it come to life – be it a statue, a rock or a plant – but you will come to life as well. You will find that you can truly see, hear, and touch things again as if for the first time. You won’t need the mass media to distract you any more or to entertain your boredom. You won’t need the false temples of shopping malls, sports arenas, or drive in churches. The world of nature will gain a palpable presence that will nourish your inner being with every breath. You will enter into the cosmic waters and begin to swim in its currents, your mind and heart, becoming pure and clear.

The Divine reality is One but this unity has its unique presence in every aspect of nature, in every nuance of every object that we can see or touch. The different Gods and Goddesses of various nature-honoring traditions are not a primitive polytheism but an abundant living experience of the One that is infinite. Unless one experiences the Divine in nature, one cannot experience the Creator or the Absolute beyond time and space. One cannot be saved from the alienation from Divine unity that is the root of all suffering unless one leaves ego and body consciousness to embrace the greater universe. We are lacking in that direct perception of life and existence, which brings the sacred into every moment. If our human self and identity remains at the forefront, the Divine is not there.

Unless we bring back the Gods and Goddesses, a lasting experience of unity at a spiritual level will not be possible. We will be trapped in human ideas, caught in dogmas, institutions, slogans and sentiments, barred from entering into the cosmic reality, not by any act of God but by our own ignorance. So let us become sacred activists, yogic activists, if you will, those whose action is to bring the deities back into the human world and to the world of nature that we have banished them from, so that the human world can go beyond its egoistic boundaries. We need to reawaken the deities not only in our temples but also in our land, air and space, regarding our entire environment as sacred.

If you can help bring one sacred site or sacred form back to life, you will likely to have done more for the world than any amount of outer actions. Of course, we need to continue to act responsibly in the outer world, including voting wisely and using our money with care, but these should be part of a greater sacred endeavor, not its primary factor but its natural consequence. Let the voice of all beings in the universe, its wonderful powers of consciousness, and the voice of the cosmic silence beyond be heard as well as our own human voices, which themselves should be attuned to the cosmic rhythms, not the daily gossip.

The Mind of the Guru: Conversations with Spiritual Masters ~ Rajiv Mehrotra

In The Mind of the Guru Rajiv Mehrotra presents dialogues with twenty contemporary sages and masters who have illumined the minds of millions around the world. Ranged here are gurus as diverse as B. K. S. Iyengar, who brought yoga from the world of esoteric to our living rooms, and Mata Amritanandamayi, whose mere presence invokes an overwhelming awareness of low. There is Deepak Chopra discussing a quantum healing of mind and body, Sogyal Rinpoche encouraging us to look at death so that we might live a better life and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar reaffirming each person’s right and access to happiness. And there is the unique and contrary voice of U. G. Krishnamurti telling us that all talk of transformation is poppycock. There are no grand narratives or final solution, only guide who can show the way to the light within. Underlying the dialogues is their wisdom on how we make ourselves unhappy – and guidance on how we can turn our lives around to achieve happiness.

As Vipassana guru S. N. Goenka says, ‘The teacher shows the way. One must walk in the path and experience it step by step.’ This book is a remarkable journey both for those looking to take their first tentative steps and those already well on the path.

Rajiv Mehrotra was educated at the universities of Delhi, Oxforc and Columbia. For over three decades he has been a familiar face on public relevision, notably as the anchor of an in-depth one-on-one talk show that has been through several incarnations. He is presently secretary /trustee of the Foundation for Universal Responsibility of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and managing trustee of the Public service Broadcasting Trust. He is a trustee of the Norbulinka Institute of Tibetan Culture and has served on the governing councils of the Sri Aurobindo Society and the Film & Television Institute of India.

As an independent documentary film-maker, he has won several international and three national awards from the President of India. He was nominated a Global Leader for Tomorrow by the Word Economic forum at Davos.

Click here to browse inside.

Interview by Rajiv Mehrotra for Doordarshan TV, India

His Holiness the Dalai Lama in conversation with Rajiv Mehrotra for Doordarshan National TV of India originally broadcast on March 31st, 2009.

Abide as the Self ◦ Ramana Maharshi ◦ Full Movie [ updated April 8, 2013]

Special Note: The transformational nature of this one hour video’s deep inner revelations of Ramana Maharshi teachings necessitates that viewers should focus attention and digest on the messages, free from distractions of the mundane worldly chores. Hence, view this video during solitary time of mental ease and reflective contemplation. – Namaste

Abide As the Self is a transforming video that takes you on an inner journey into the teachings of Ramana Maharshi and the path of Self-knowledge. Comprehensive film footage of Ramana comes alive, with emphasis on the teachings of Self-Inquiry and its practical application. A special collection of rare photographs enhances Ramana’s presence and captures the compassion and grace of one of the most respected sages of our time.

The inspired narration by Ram Dass provides an overview of Ramana’s teachings. Also included are interviews with H.W.L. Poonja, Douglas Harding, Allan W. Anderson, and others. In Abide As the Self, you will experience how the profound teachings of Ramana Maharshi can be easily applied in our daily life.

This is a deeply inspiring video in which the sage Ramana speaks directly to your heart. “Abide As the Self skillfully interweaves old and new still photographs, excerpts from Ramana’s writings, interviews with longtime devotees, narration by Ram Dass, and, not least, rare and precious footage of Ramana from 1935 to 1949. Highly recommended.” – Yoga Journal

“The presence of the great Indian sage Ramana Maharshi, his clear approach to Self-Realization, and the teachings of Self-Inquiry are beautifully presented. Interviews and exceptional film footage of Ramana Maharshi make this video an inspiring and transforming experience.” New Renaissance Bookshop

“The video concludes with the encouraging words of Ram Dass, who tells us that Maharshi’s message is not Indian but universal: the peace that illuminates the heart and mind is always present. Anyone curious about this aspect of Eastern spirituality will find this informative and interesting video worthwhile and surprisingly accessible to general viewers. Recommended.” ~ Video Librarian

“Bhagavan was always silent, that is everyone’s true nature . . . In this quietness the mind will automatically return to its source and there will be a tremendous fountain of peace. All doubts are cleared and one remains quiet, in the heart.” ~ H.W.L. Poonja

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