Published: January 30th 2012January 30th 2012
Living in Australia has been a mixed bag for me so far. Without a doubt, it’s a beautiful country: the nature is green and lush, there are forests, plants, herbs, exotic wildlife, and of course, the wild ocean. But somehow I have not been able to connect with the land on a deeper level, at least not here in Queensland. When I was living in New Mexico last year, I felt instantly part of its rugged terrain and big skies. In the desert, something ancient was singing to me, and my heart flew open wide every time I went walking in the Sandia Mountains and in the woods of Tijeras. Everything felt magical and novel. Here, my main sentiment has been one of mundanity, visually appreciating the land’s beauty, but not feeling very much about it at all.
It’s been the same with the culture here. The Australians, or Aussies as they call themselves, are friendly people with a keen interest in an outdoors lifestyle, such as hiking (‘bushwalking’ they call it), surfing and running. Beer is a great national treasure, as are barbeques. I find much of the culture to be quite similar to that of the UK, which
is hardly surprising, as many of the modern Australians are descendants of British convicts that came here in the 1800’s to help colonize the land. So, you might think that I feel right at home here, but somehow I miss the finer aspects of British and European culture. Maybe it’s really just the area I live in, but other Europeans I have met over here have reported the same general feeling about Australia. It’s beautiful, it’s warm, it’s sunny, and the lifestyle is relaxed – but something is missing.
Culturally speaking, what interests me most about this country is the Aboriginal tribal way of life, and what I have observed is that there doesn’t seem to be much left of it, similar to how it is in the USA with the Native Americans. It’s like they, the original inhabitants of the country, have become invisible. The land the Aborigines were given to live on in the Outback is worthless sand, and the area in the northern territory is rugged cliff and scrub bush – just like the barren desert in New Mexico the Native Americans were forced to live on. The only reasonable area considered still their land is
also designated as national parks, so they live sharing it with the tourists. It seems that many Aborigines live in isolated sections of the community, that many of them are on the dole, and those that work often do so in manual labour, such as mining. Alcoholism, diabetes and unemployment are major problems, and according to national statistics, Aborigines continue to be severely disadvantaged, which is hardly surprising when you see what has happened to their culture since white settler came to take over their country. Again, it’s the same in the USA with the Native Americans who live in desolate ‘reservations’. Some do really well, but it seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
Last Thursday was ‘Australia Day’, commemorating the day the first fleet came here in 1788 and proclaimed British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of New Holland. There have been massive protests by the Aboriginal people about this, who call the day ‘Invasion Day’ and ‘Survival Day’. I can empathize. ‘Yes, celebrate the day you took over our country and started destroying our culture.’ I would be outraged, too.
So yes, I’ve been feeling a bit out of place here. Most of
all though, I have been missing my friends and community back home. In the past few years, I have spent a lot of time in ashrams, even living there for extended periods of time, and became used to being in conscious, spiritual communities with a common focus. I really enjoy the lifestyle of shared spiritual practices, cooking organic vegan food together and having inspirational conversations. Here in Toowoomba, there’s not much available in that vein, and though I'm often in the delightful company of my Beloved, I’ve slowly been going crazy.
Thus, in December I decided that I had to get out of here and experience ashram life again, if only for a couple of weeks. The closest ashram I found was ‘Samaya’s Ashram in the Bush’, an ashram based on the teachings of Indian mystic Osho. On the website, it looked wonderful: set in nature with beautiful walking tracks and creeks, lovely cabins, vegetarian food, organic gardening and meditations led by Swami Prem Samaya, the founder of the ashram. As I am a big fan of Osho, I knew I’d like this place. I booked myself in for a couple of weeks and made my way towards Byron
Bay, near where the ashram is located – about four hours drive from Toowoomba. Byron Bay is an area renowned for its spiritual vibe and many alternative communities have their base there.
On a gloomy Monday morning, I drive up a winding, dense road in the middle of nowhere, until I finally come across a wooden board that reads ‘Samaya’s Ashram’. To the left and right of the driveway are large trees, many of them banana trees, plus exotic plants and bushes. I park my car in the mud, for it has been raining for a while, in front of a big white house with sweeping verandas. I guess that this must be the ashram’s HQ. As I climb out of my car, the front door opens, and out comes a slight man in white robes with shoulder-length curly hair and a beard. From the photos on the website I deduce that this must be Swami Prem Samaya. He waves me over with the words ‘Sei Tiziana? Vieni qua e ci parliamo.’
Perplexed, I look at him. He speaks Italian?! Wow! ‘Sei Italiano?’
I enquire. ‘Are you Italian?’ He is indeed, and just as excited as I am about
speaking Italian in a strange land. We sit down on his veranda and chat about Sicily, Italian food and life. I like him immediately: he has some of the clearest blue eyes I have ever seen, and radiates a calm alertness and presence that misses nothing. Within five minutes of meeting me, he knows exactly what is going on for me and why I have come here, though I don’t tell him much. He sees that I am experiencing an inner conflict, that my spirit feels out of synch living in a society that means nothing to me anymore, and that I need to take some time out to re-focus. With amazing accuracy, he cuts to the heart of the matter immediately, and I suddenly feel a strange mixture of relief and vulnerability.
Kamala, the ashram’s Irish cook, bounces down the path in her black wellies that house mosquito-bitten legs. ‘Lunch is ready’, she says after she hugs me, and leads me to the ashram’s kitchen and outdoors eating area, where a vegetarian feast is being served. Here, I meet a few other ashramites, and am immediately befriended by Satori, a handsome young actor from Austria. He is happy
that somebody close to his age has arrived and we spend the rest of lunch talking about yoga, travel and his experiences at the ashram so far.
After lunch, Satori shows me my new home. It’s a beautiful cabin with sweeping views over the bush land and, as Satori tells me, with ‘front row seats’ for the 5am sunrise. His cabin is right next to mine. Inside are a comfortable double bed, a desk, and some shelving. It’s clean and comfortable. As I look behind the cabin, which has windows all around, a kangaroo gazes at me curiously. Later, I explore the ashram, which has some 100 acres. Eco-friendly cabins are spaced around the land, the toilets are compost and there are two bathroom complexes. In the woods behind my cabin is a sacred labyrinth walk, and it’s incredibly peaceful here.
Later in the afternoon, I meet Erin, an energetic young American woman who flies planes and rides Harley Davidsons. She is here with her husband Charlie, and they’re woofing (working on organic farms) across Australia. Erin is a Cranio-Sacral Therapist and we spend some time talking about Ayurveda and agree to swap sessions. I immediately spring back
to life – these are my people. I can breathe again.
The people at Samaya’s ashram live sustainably in harmony with the land: they farm organic vegetables and fruit, drink water from their own spring and have showers with rainwater. They also live with conscious resourcefulness of electricity, gas and water.
Every evening, the community meets to gather around Prem Samaya for evening meditation and discourses. I am pleased to note that, in true Osho style, people dance for about fifteen minutes before the evening meditation. Osho held the view that the Western mind isn’t steady enough for silent meditation and therefore he advocated physical movement, such as dance and catharsis, before stillness can be achieved. So, we dance to disco music, Samaya among us in his white robes like a Jesus moving among his disciples. Afterwards, we sit down for some quiet meditation and our evening discourse with Samaya. Tonight, he talks about consciousness and uses a letter somebody wrote him to point out the cunningness of the mind. Afterwards, some of the people share their experience of being at the ashram, their difficulties and their joys. Samaya is always present like a hawk, pointing out the
slightest inconsistencies and often confronting the speaker with their ‘sore spots’. Samaya’s aim is to assist young people in their transformation into better, less conditioned human beings, and I am curious to see what the next two weeks will bring.
Satsang finishes at 9pm, and I go to the kitchen with Satori to make some Sleepy Tea. There, we see the biggest spider. It is hairy and about as large as a hand. Aghast, we stare at it for a while until we hear a crunching sound. ‘Look!’ exclaims Satori, evidently impressed. ‘It’s devouring a cockroach!’ We oscillate between hysteria and laughter, especially when we see a second spider in the opposing corner, and pray that none of them will make it to our cabins. We agree to rescue each other should this calamity occur. Welcome to the Bush!
Gigantic spiders aside, being in the Bush is magical. When I get up at 5am the next morning, I see two barn owls sitting on the roof of my cabin. Near the bathrooms, a kangaroo nonchalantly crosses my path. And the promised sunrise is indeed spectacular.
Life at Samaya’s ashram is pretty dynamic. Almost every day, new people
arrive, and others leave. Residents spend their time working on the land in the morning – this is called ‘Meditation in Action’ and is their contribution to living here. This work consists of gardening, cleaning, harvesting and so on. I participate and my first job involves cleaning the kitchen. Work is from 7.30am until lunchtime, and the rest of the day is free until evening meditation at 7pm. This gives plenty of time for rest and recreation. Lunch is awesome every day, thanks to Kamala’s magic, who loves creating colourful salads, chick pea burgers, exotic pastas and curries for us.
Some of Osho’s Meditations, such as ‘Dynamic Meditation’ and ‘Kundalini Meditation’ are often practiced at 6am. These consist of cathartic methods of freeing the body from toxic, stuck emotions, and I participate often. And due to the transformational nature of the ashram, something unexpected or dramatic happens every day. Samaya welcomes all of it – he sees the ashram as a microcosm of society, where everything that happens ‘there’ happens in a condensed form among the residents of the ashram. He flows with it and approaches every situation as it comes, trusting that it will resolve itself in its
own time without trying to control it.
For me, the most amazing thing about this ashram is without doubt Prem Samaya. He is unbelievable
. On the first day, he tells me that he is 82 years old. ’82!’ I gasp. He doesn’t look a day older than 60, and is incredibly fit. He dances vigorously, practices yoga, runs, gardens, and sits on his tractor mowing the lawn for hours every day. He has more energy than most 30-year olds I know. His secret? Pranayama (yogic breath control) and non-ejaculation. In yoga and tantra, it is believed that ejaculation during sex disperses vital energies, and thus practices have been developed that enable men to experience orgasm in a different, more wholesome way by taking the sexual energy ‘up’ to the body’s crown chakra – not down into the lower base chakras as is done in conventional sex. In this way, the body conserves vital prana
(life force); longevity and higher energy levels are the result.
‘Yes’, he tells me, ‘I was very religious as a child and then lived in a monastery from age 13 to 28. There, I learned many things. My sexual energy didn’t get polluted as
is the case with so many young people these days. They have indiscriminate sex with many different people, and by the time they come to me, their sexual energy is totally fucked up. They are depleted by the time they are 20! I am not telling them that they should not have sex, but they should do it in a different, more conscious way. Not a single person in this ashram here knows what it means to truly love another human being.’ However, he encourages exploration of sexuality and relationships, away from the conditioning and repression we usually have about them.
Samaya founded the ashram in 1993, after spending 35 years under the guidance of Osho – and he is committed to continue his work of Life Teacher. He is passionate about assisting others to live their life at the maximum of joy, creativity, sensitivity, awareness, passion and a deep connection to nature. To live fully in the Now is his mantra. Like Osho, Samaya believes in discarding of all belief systems.
Being with Samaya, during satsang or in our private conversations, is my favourite part of the day. His honesty is so refreshing. He also has quite
a temper, triggered by the famous Italian blood that erupts from time to time. One time, during dancing, he pulls out a young girl who has been at the ashram for some time. ‘What is the matter with you?’ he shouts at her. ‘You are 22 and you have no energy! You are dead already!’ The girl has been feeling drained and depressed and it is decided that she will leave the ashram for some time to regain her enthusiasm for being here. This, he says, is for her own good and should be seen not as a slap, but as a ‘compassionate hug’.
After a few days at Samaya’s Ashram, I decide to take a break from ‘Meditation in Action’ and just enjoy being here. Down the hill, still on Samaya’s land, is the Bush Sanctuary, a more meditative ashram run by a lady who has been here for 17 years. Nearby is a creek, a tree house and a waterfall. That morning, I sit on rocks in the creek for hours, reading and meditating while listening to the water’s gentle sounds. It is so peaceful, I don’t want to leave. When I finally do, I choose to
take a different path back to the ashram to the one I came on. The grass comes up to my knees, and I am not exactly sure where it will bring me. But somehow I feel compelled to walk it. Then, the most magical things happen. First, I see an enormous python slithering through the grass to my right. I watch in awe as it silently disappears from my sight. A few steps further, I think I am hallucinating. A large cat-like creature, roughly the size of a medium dog, crosses the path in front of me. Its fur is spotted like a leopard’s, and its ears are pointy and upright. It notices me, comes to a stop underneath a tree and fixates me with its sharp eyes. I hold its gaze for a few timeless seconds, then decide it’s probably wise to move on quietly. Still in wonder about these encounters, I see the next creature to my left: a gigantic parrot-like bird with black wings that must measure around 5ft in diameter. Then, a huge lizard, and to top it off, a small wallaby that hops along the path cheerfully. Suddenly, I am back at the Bush Sanctuary.
I feel like Alice in Wonderland. What has just happened on this short, overgrown path? I come back to lunch all smiles.
I really enjoy my time at Samaya’s ashram. As with other ashrams I have visited, an internal transformation starts to unfold, and I become a lot clearer about my life again and the steps I need to take next. I am nourished by the surroundings, Samaya’s wisdom, and the company of beautiful, like-hearted people who, like me, are all here because they want to grow, transform and become all they can be, away from the trappings and distractions of modern society and a value system that means nothing to them. I am inspired by how young some of the people are, especially Surya Devi, a beautiful 19-year old Australian girl who has a maturity and open-heartedness that enamours her to all that live here. Another person who impresses me is Yatri, who has spent months living by himself in the woods before coming here. I love the open and frank discussions, the determination to do things differently and make the world into a better place under the guidance of a man who has refused to conform for
his entire life. Through his vision, he created a wonderful place in nature where young people can come and blossom until they are ready to leave again.
I also really cherish my friendship with Satori. He is awesome, like the bon vivant
Goldmund from Hermann Hesse’s ‘Narziss und Goldmund’. Together, we play kirtan and write a song for Prem Samaya to express our appreciation. Actually, we don’t entirely write
it. It would be more apt to say that we re-write a Christian song Satori remembers from his childhood. It has an Italian chorus and so we decide to write an Italian hymn for our beloved Prem Samaya. The song is called ‘Laudato si o mio Signore’
(‘Be praised oh my Lord’) and the lyrics basically praise God: we change them to praise the Lord of this ashram to the catchy tune. We plan to present this song to Samaya on the last evening before both of us depart. Erin is enlisted to make a flower crown for Samaya that she will place on his head while the hymn is sung.
On my last evening, it’s the Summer Solstice. Actually, it’s the Winter Solstice where I am from, but
as everything is the other way around in Australia, it’s summer in December and the Summer Solstice is what we will therefore celebrate. I enrol Satori as my assistant, who takes the role very seriously. We plan a shamanic fire ceremony with a tribal dance around the ashram’s giant fire pit. We however have to re-think as it starts to rain cats and dogs in the morning. We seek refuge on Kamala’s veranda, gossip, fantasize about servants coming to bring us Earl Grey tea and umbrellas, and slowly the ritual comes together. We decide to hold it in the ‘Buddha Hall’, an outdoor structure that isn’t quite finished yet. The fire ceremony will still be held, courtesy of the vegetarian barbeque on which Kamala creates our feasts every day, and beautiful elf Yatri will be the fire keeper. I decide on a letting go ritual in which all members of the ashram will release things they no longer need in their lives, and welcome those energies they wish to nourish in the next few months.
On the night, it all works out beautifully. In a circle, we raise energy and sing in the elements and directions with chants created
by my drumming and singing teacher Jana Runnalls. Yatri lights the ceremonial fire, and as we continue to sing, drum and dance, we make our offerings to the fire with flowers. The energy is high, and after we close the circle, we process silently to the meditation hall for the second part of the ceremony. Prem Samaya sits in his usual place at the front of the hall; Satori and I sit by his side with guitar and harmonium; the rest of the people sit around us in a half-circle. Satori and I have printed the English translation of Samaya’s hymn for the others to read, and we start singing ‘Laudato si’
. The others join in the chorus with us, which goes ‘Laudato si, o mio Signore, laudato si, o mio signore, laudato si, o mio Signore, laudato si, o mio Signore!’
and so we praise the ashram, the compost toilets, the cold showers, and the Italian blood of our wonderful teacher. Prem Samaya, surprised at first, sits back and enjoys the song we present to him, and laughs as Erin gently places the colourful flower crown on his head.
We continue with singing a few kirtans, one of
which we changed from ‘Jaya Mata Kali, Jaya Mata Durga’ to ‘Jaya Prem Samaya’; plus ‘Shiva Shambo’ and ‘Ananda Ma’. The ashram sings and claps its heart out, and Satori and I fly in ecstasy leading the kirtan. What a fantastic way to end our stay here.
After the kirtan, Samaya gives a short talk, expressing his gratitude and saying goodbye to the people that will leave in the morning: Satori, Kamala, Surya Devi and I. Such is the nature of ashram life: ever changing, never the same, always transformational. I feel a deep gratitude for the time I have spent here in the presence of such an evolved human being who has made it his life purpose to facilitate the growth of others and so generously share all that he has learned. I am grateful for the friendships I have forged, and for the internal journey I have experienced here. I have once again recognized what is important in life: that it’s not ‘stuff’, not money, not distraction, but merely freedom: the freedom to live the life we came here to live; freedom from conditioning and bondage of karma; the freedom of self-realization and becoming who we truly
are, beyond the wheel of samsara
. Prem Samaya, by having lived his life entirely on his terms, is a wonderful example and inspiration for me to keep following the call of my soul and that the soul’s journey can never be compromised.
When Satori and I leave the next morning, the whole ashram gathers to wave us off. We take some farewell pictures. Samaya fills my car with the most beautiful, fragrant flowers from his garden and hands me a bag of fruit for the journey. I am touched and vow that I will come and visit him again soon. Satori and I stop off to have lunch at the nearby ‘Crystal Castle’, a magical park filled with crystals, Buddhas and Hindu deities, and I drop him off in Byron Bay before heading back to Toowoomba. I feel happy and sing all the way back home, the flowers on my dashboard reminding me of the magical time I’ve had at Samaya’s ashram. Jaya Prem Samaya! If you are in Australia, visit Samaya’s ashram! You will have a beautiful time. Find out more on http://www.ashraminthebush.org.au
I've uploaded the song we made for Prem Samaya. It shows up as
'video' at the beginning of this page, but is only an audio recording. The translation of the lyrics goes like this: 'Be praised oh my Lord (chorus)
... because you made the ashram
... for Surya, Kamala and Amrita
... for making them cook
.... because you are wonderful! Be praised oh my Lord (chorus)
... for the cold showers
... for the compost toilets
... for the gardens and the trees
... because you're fucking awesome! Be praised oh my Lord (chorus)
... for your wisdom
.... for your Italian blood
... for the Divine Comedy
... because you're fucking awesome!' You can find more photos of the ashram on the next page.
There are more photos below