Over the years my life has proven time and time again one thing is for sure… There are many people, places and experiences in this world where I have had the opportunity to awaken my heart when I thought it was not possible or I was unwilling to go there. This blog is a summary of 4 amazing places I’ve had the pleasure of living at around the world, reflecting on those experiences and how I feel grateful to have lived through those experience to make me a more whole, grounded and awakened individual in all its glory both the ugly and beautiful. You can’t have one without the other is my experience. I hope you may be inspired to go to a place somewhere in this world when lock down is completed that also brings you to your edge of comfort like all these places were for me, and my hope is that the place you choose will help you to expand your awakening of your heart.
Bukkokuji Monastery, Obama, Japan
In 2007 for several months I was living and working at Bukkokuji Monastery, Obama, Japan. I had the pleasure of meeting and receiving the teachings and Darshan of master Harada Tangen Roshi who has lived at the monastery for 64 years. I was introduced to the centre by a monk in Nepal who had suggested it would be good for my journey to stepping onto the path. He claimed I was close to the path but not on it yet. He was a humble man who in my experience was as a wake as any man I had met. I spent several days with him discussing life in that café in Kathmandu and feel grateful to have met him.
I was the same age upon arrival of the monastery as the second monk who looked after HTR we were both 33. I became close friends with Zenshin the second master of the monastery. At HTR 80th birthday I sang, Your Beautiful, by James Blunt and Zenshin played the guitar. There were around 100 guests that day plus the monks. They were allowed to drink 1 or 2 beers which was only allowed on very rare occasions, it was probably one of the funniest experiences of my life that day, surreal to be surrounded by around 60 drunk monks. I’m glad I sang my song that day it felt aligned to me giving my gifts and being playful and coming from my heart.
Monastic Daily Life
Daily life includes; 4.40am “Shinrei” wake up calls ready for the morning run, followed by 30 minutes of Japanese movement training called “Taiso” to prepare the body for the coming day. In a normal day we would do 4/5 Zazen sitting meditations each lasting 40 minutes. I found this experience challenging and stands alone as a practice of awareness that has both simplicity and clarity.
Zazen Mediation Practice
You can’t go to a monastery with the teaching of Zen without discussing the practice of Zazen. There are two schools of teaching Zen in Japan. Rinzai and Soto. Bukkokuji was Soto. Which meant woman were excepted. Meditating, working and eating together, we slept in different parts of the building. It felt balanced to have mixed gender, a lot of monastery in Japan actually most still don’t allow woman to stay. Monks in Japan are allowed to marry, some of the monks did have wives, but spent most of their lives at the monastery.
During the sitting practice in Soto if you wish to receive the bamboo stick (massage) which is a tool for bringing presence to the hara, known as the seat of the soul in eastern cultures. In Japan it is called the Hara and in Chinese it is called the Dantien. Asking for the support of the head monk during sitting of Zazen meant you had to ask for it. You ask by bowing in the presents of the senior monk who is walking around distributing the stick, I called them the enforcer 😉 Everyone faces the wall while meditating. You have your place and you stay there for the duration until the dojo is cleaned which is once a week. To receive the stick firstly you ask for it by bowing in the presence of the master walking around the hall, they acknowledge you by tapping you twice with the stick very gently, then you receive three blows across your back diagonally from your right shoulder. I have mixed feelings about the bamboo stick, there were several monks who’s eyes were facing in different directions, my story I created to maybe understand why so many men’s eyes were pointing in different directions was this. The hara awakening “stick” is so shocking that this is one of the bi products of the stick. I have no mixed feelings about the clarity it brings to presence to the hara. It is my experience that receiving the three strikes is a profound experience and lasts for a few minutes intensely and for up to 10 minutes for more focused practice as the presence drops into the hara. The hara is 3 inches below the belly button and it is almost impossible to think after the three strikes. It’s an extremely intense process, upon completion of the three strikes you bow again to say thank you. There was one western monk there from the USA who had been living there for around 12 years. He wasn’t too keen on foreigners in my opinion. One day he was on stick jute and I asked for it from him. I lived to tell the tale, but my god I thought the stick was going to snap on my back. Bukkokuji Monastery was one of those experiences to savour. The routines, preciseness, clarity of intension were all of the highest standards. As a practice it is very yang/masculine style and comes with its limitations. Mostly around being able to listen to the body and take care under duress. It was a machine and living there was like being part of the cogs. I’m grateful for being allowed to stay and live as a lay monk, I wouldn’t go back to live but I would very much like to offer my love and support for the consciousness the community created there during my stay and continued for many years and still to this day.
Esalen Institute, California, USA
In 2006 – 2016 I was fortunate enough to live and work as a work Scholar and a Zero. In total I spent Eight months living and working at Esalen. I studied with Zuza Engler, Soul Motion teacher and Gestalt therapist, Perry Holloman Gestalt therapist and massage therapist for 6 months on a 1-to-1 basis, Patrick Douce the founder of Spinal Awareness for a 1-month intensive and finally a month intensive with Howard Joel Schechter Ph.D. training in group process. I was invited to attend staff week ran by Andrea Juhan PHD and Alain Allard which was a wild, wonderful and eye-opening process to be a part of.
Apart from the hot springs Esalen is also famous for its personal growth work with many Yoga teaching styles being founded there Also the following being founded; Holotropic breathwork by Stanislav Grof, Rolfing by Ida Rolf, 5 Rhythms by Gabrielle Roth, Gestalt Therapy as well as Gestalt Awareness by Fritz Pearls which is still practiced at Esalen to this day. If you get the chance to go, it’s a must…
Esalen’s Hot Springs
Esalen is famous worldwide for the hot springs that have one of the most beautiful views in the world I’ve seen. It is the most breath-taking shower I’ve ever had for sure… The tubs can hold up to 15 people in most of them and everyone is naked. Watching the nights sky while soaking is unrivalled to one of the most profoundly immersing experiences of my life. Especially when soaking at the early hours of the morning when no-body else was there. I felt a mixture of being completely held by the land and people at Esalen, while at the same time being destabilised about my core beliefs and what I stood for. Without question one of the places on the planet I’ve been too that is sacred, held and visited by people committed to being awakened on all levels. I give my deep respect to all that I experienced and met there during my four visits over several years.
Baja Bio Sana, Mexico
In 2007 – 2009 I worked with Dan Brule at Baja Bio Sana, he was my breath-work teacher. I bought the plot of land next door to Bio Sana. It was 8 acres and I set up a non-profit corporation in Mexico for a sustainable living and mediation centre. The retreat was built on a farm and it was called “Freedom Retreats.” We ran retreats and life style workshops, plus yoga and meditation classes for the visitors as part of the rustic retreat program. Everyone who came radically changed. The land in the Hills next to the Bio sphere is untouched and hadn’t been lived on before. No electricity or power cables, it was like waking up in paradise being so close to nature. I spent two years living in an orange tent while I stayed there. I returned to London very grounded and ready to face the Gestalt Masters course I commenced in London in 2009.
Dan is an amazing person as well as one of the best if not the best breath workers on our planet. I am sincerely grateful for the re-birthing sessions I received from him. Two come to mind. The first was on the land, I was having a melt down and he said “let’s do a session”. I replied, “what now”… He said. “yes now”. Dan had a way of knowing when to do rebirthing sessions, he said he could smell when people were ready to let go and pop. I trusted Dan very much which doesn’t come easy for me to trust people. That session was an emotional roller coaster, and took me a few days to process and integrate. The second was in the local hot springs. Again, I was cooking and needed the support from Dan with his breathwork. That night in the pool really did some magic… dropping deep into my consciousness and regressing back to the birth canal into the womb. The aim of the rebirthing process is to shed the trauma held in the body, often since birth to clear the pathways to freedom of expression. Breathwork saved me a few times in my life. It is an extremely powerful process and tool to unlock the heart, body and mind especially the flavour of re-birthing, I’m most grateful for the training I had with Dan Brule to become a breathwork therapist.
Bio Sana still continues as a small community of like-minded friends who wish to co-live together and sometimes, they host events. The original vision to become a retreat centre proved to be too much finically. I sold my land to Bio Sana and let Freedom Retreats go, it was too big a project for me. But I wouldn’t change a thing I learnt so much from this experience. Building and setting up a rustic retreat centre was a fast way to learn about how to run a successful business, and good business regardless to the intention needs funding. Land are money pits for investment. I spent over $50,000 USD including buying the land, the fees and paying for lawyers and still I didn’t have a home on the land. The tent didn’t seem perfect at the time but on reflection it was as it was meant to be.
Osho International Mediation resort, India
In 2007 I joined the group called, “Primal Deconditioning” as it was called then. I had been in the Osho ashram 2 days and I knew I needed to do some serious inner work around anger and pent up aggression around my family. Puja Lepp was the facilitator of the primal therapy and Osho meditations, with Abhijat Kamiar Ehsani assisting, both long term sannyasin’s who had lived with Osho for two decades while he was alive. The process was for 14 days in silence, holding a teddy bear of our own choosing for 24 hours a day for the whole experience. Working inside a soundproofed padded room, deep down in the earth. I can only liken it to being like a womb and a prison cell all wrapped up in one. I think you may get the picture; it was deep work letting go of old pain to do with mother and father issues. Osho is renowned for his talks on freedom and sex. This wasn’t my only experience there; I did have some deep intimate interactions and relations during my 9 months. I felt my time there was deeply connecting, the mediations particularly, Dynamic 6am and Kundalini 4pm are gateways to releasing so many old stories, I did both for 6 months without missing a day.
Giles Collings and I arrived at the Osho Ashram late in the evening. We were invited to go to the death celebration in the morning in the main hall. We were not sure what that entailed. Well it was shocking and so moving to see a dead person being hailed in an open coffin, with hundreds of people dancing like they had been let out of a mental asylum, people screaming, crying, dancing, hugging each other, Giles and I were like, “what the fuck is this…” That was the beginning of a very important phase of my life and facing so many deaths within myself my demons that needed to be acknowledged and worked through, was a major part of my learning. The teachings of letting go… The mind and body are only tools to go in to become the witness.
White Robe Evening Meditation
This is the pinnacle of the day as far as I was concerned. Every-body who wanted to attend the evening meeting needed to be dressed in white. Back in 2007 I recon there were over 2000 people in the hall, dancing, meditating and listening to every word Osho spoke, as if he was still alive to this day. The recordings by the Sannyasins has been a real gift to humanity, with Osho leaving his body in 1990. He is the most published author in the world, commenting on all taboos and never writing a single world. All words taken directly from his enlightening talks over thirty years. Those talks are watched still today as if Osho is alive and well. I felt Osho’s presence in those meetings without a doubt, it was such an honour to be part of the meetings for the 9 months I lived and worked there.
Parties and Buddha Grove Those who have been to Osho in Puna will know that Wednesday nights and Saturday nights are disco night or party night. They were so much fun and the dancers from all over the world completely immersed in the music. There was a raw passion that I loved about the people at Osho, there was a sense of freedom and allowing yourself to be as big as you wanted to embrace yourself to be. Buddha grove where Osho gave talks for over 20 years was the stage for daily meditation through conscious dance. I had the pleasure of DJing a couple of times. Which was so much fun and brought much joy to the people that showed up.