Interview: A Slice of Life – with Chef Viramo

Chances are that if you’ve been at Mandali, you’ve had the pleasure of savouring some of the delicious, heart warming dishes lovingly prepared by Chef Viramo. A coming together of traditional Italian recipes, wholesome vegetarian stews, fresh crispy salads and of course, his unforgettable Tiramisu, his cooking is a part of the essence of what Mandali is all about. Viramo has been with us since our conception, and in this interview he shares parts of his story, delicious culinary secrets, and a delightful spring recipe.

How did you end up as a chef in the retreat space?

When I started cooking at the age of 18, I began by assisting others to understand different types of foods. This was in my own village, working at my family’s restaurant in the Venetia region of Italy. Later, at the age of 22,  I moved to London, and worked as a helper cook in a vegetarian restaurant. It was during that time that I also became familiar with the Osho center, which is the reason I traveled there.

My encounter with the spiritual world happened casually during a solo holiday in Sardinia. One morning, I woke up on the beach with a sense of timelessness and met a peaceful German guy. He mentioned meeting a guru in India, which fascinated me.

When I moved to London, after working in a vegetarian restaurant for a while, I joined the Osho community and from the very beginning, I loved it. It was a wave of new people, new friends, a new way of life.  It was a happy time, away from my village in Venetia where not much was happening. Joining the commune felt like a big exodus from my small life revolving around my family business and the restaurant.

Since I was the only Italian there, the woman leading the commune assumed I must be a good cook so I started to share my skills.  It’s funny how things work out like that, right? So I started cooking for 200 people every day, constantly learning along the way. 

As I developed my spiritual practice and remained connected to the community, I chose to work exclusively in retreat centers and seminar houses. This allowed me to easily find a job and create a fully vegetarian kitchen wherever I went, and I also really like to cook like that, to have enough time to make fresh dishes for everyone to share. In a ‘normal’ restaurant, where each dish is plated, the food is not made with the same energy, the same freshness. Lots of things are pre-cut and prepared to put together quickly, and I prefer to cook in a more simple, family style way. 

What’s the story behind your famously delicious tiramisu at Mandali? Everyone talks about it.

Tiramisu comes from a popular family recipe in the region of Venice, and the first restaurant that started serving it on their menu in the 1960’s was in our town. My uncle got the recipe from a cook there, and so we began serving it at our restaurant. The word spread as my uncle was well connected, and soon chefs from Milan were coming over to ask for the recipe. My mother was even a little skeptical at first to include it in the menu as it seemed like more of a family dessert, made with cookies, not something for a restaurant, but look what happened! Soon even people getting married started ordering it from us as their wedding cake.

Do you still make it that same way, and do you love it?

Yes, with Lady Finger cookies dipped in coffee, mascarpone mixed with sugar and  egg whites and Masala liquor, topped with chocolate powder. It’s very simple in the end. I loved tiramisu as a kid and still do!

Your food has a distinct feeling, a sense of home. What’s the secret behind it? Do you follow a specific cooking philosophy like Ayurveda or macrobiotics?

Initially, in my early 20s, I followed a strict vegetarian diet for a long time. However, I eventually developed allergies and intolerances to certain foods, which is when I got into macrobiotics, and this changed the way I related to food.

Now I don’t strictly follow any particular diet or school. I incorporate a bit of everything in my own way. First and foremost, I don’t like being strict about anything. Coming from Italy, where food is highly regarded and diverse in every region, I didn’t want to abandon that aspect in my vegetarian cooking. So I adopted a bit of macrobiotics to provide a framework.

What exactly is macrobiotics? Is it a specific way of eating?

Yes, macrobiotics is a philosophy of eating that extends to a way of being. It originates from Japan and is based on the belief that we are what we eat. According to macrobiotics, if we consume healthy food in a balanced manner, we should remain healthy. The body doesn’t appreciate heavy, overly filling meals that require excessive digestion. Macrobiotics taught me to find a balanced approach to eating. For example, having around 30% grains, 30% vegetables, 20% protein, and 20% salads or fruits in each meal. It’s important to have a bit of everything. Grains serve as a foundational fuel, but balance is key. Vegetables and protein should always be part of every meal. Macrobiotics also emphasizes not overcooking vegetables. 

Furthermore, a crucial aspect is the importance of chewing food thoroughly. Digestion actually begins in the mouth with saliva breaking down the food. Eastern cultures are known for their extensive chewing habits. By chewing food properly, you eat in moderation and feel satisfied earlier. It’s essential to perceive eating as a blessing, a ritual that nourishes and keeps us alive. Chewing extensively allows the organs to absorb all the minerals and vitamins

Can you walk me through a dish that you’re particularly fond of creating for yourself or others?

My favorite dish to make for myself is brown rice with veggies and seaweed, and also soups, all kinds of soups. I like to keep it simple.

Depending on my mood, sometimes I fry a mix of fresh onions and veggies and add them to the rice. Sometimes I prefer to cook everything together, the rice and vegetables at the same time, but not too long, so it doesn’t get mushy. Brown rice takes 45 minutes to cook, so I add the veggies when there are 20 minutes left. The onions and carrots give a delicious simple and natural flavor.

I also love cooking Indian dishes, like Daal, which is a traditional lentil soup with spices and ghee, and fresh raw salads. (Viramo has generously shared his Fennel and Orange salad recipe at the end of this blog, and our mouths are already watering, especially if you’ve tasted it in Mandali.)

Is there a connection between your spirituality and your food? Do you feel like there’s an intersection?

Yes, definitely! When you’re cooking, it’s a process that requires you to be fully present in the moment. It’s about following your intuition and being highly attentive. You must ensure that things don’t burn or overcook because you’re preparing food for others. It’s more than just someone buying a book or a piece of jewelry; it becomes a part of them when they consume your food. It’s an intimate and crucial point to consider. Therefore, it’s important to remain relaxed and centered while cooking, rather than simply being relaxed. In a restaurant setting, where individuals have different preferences, the kitchen can become chaotic. It can be challenging to infuse the food with a lot of energy in such situations. Everything needs to be done quickly and becomes automatic.

What I’ve noticed here is that when I’m cooking for a large group of people, let’s say 40 or 50, I have ample time to organize, cook, and prepare. I can even ask for help if needed. The food is prepared on the same day, at that very moment, and is immediately consumed. Almost 99% of the food is freshly made. There’s no storing it on the side for days and letting people take it later. It’s all prepared and consumed at the same time.

This approach gives a more holistic and spiritual perspective to the restaurant experience. It’s like cooking for your family, expressing love through food.

This way, you’re more relaxed, allowing people to take as much as they want. You can suggest moderation, advising them not to overindulge but to come back if they’re still hungry, promoting balance. People tend to eat a lot when they find something they like or want to mix different items together.

Sometimes, we even do meditation or simply stop for a moment in the kitchen. I yell “stop,”, or ring a bell, and everyone freezes for one minute, and then continue, just to bring everyone back to the present moment. You can feel the lightness in the kitchen almost immediately.

Lastly, what’s your recipe for a fulfilling life?

My recipe for a fulfilling life? I haven’t found it yet. 🙂  I can imagine what it can be, but I have experienced moments and days of fulfillment. At the foundation, I would place meditation, simply being. That’s what makes things go in a different, more natural way. Just meditation, any practice. It helps solve all the knots, all the problems somehow. It disentangles.

And of course, you need to share with others. You need to be open to sharing your feelings. It’s not spontaneous with people, especially if you work in normal restaurants. It’s impossible to relate this way with people. That is one of the main reasons I chose to work in retreat centers, I have found my way through many different connections in the spiritual world, always meeting loving people and opportunities where I can share my food.

Fennel and Orange Salad

Ingredients: 3 fresh fennel bulbs, 3 blood oranges, 1 tablespoon of pine nuts, 3 tablespoons of toasted pumpkin seeds, 2 tablespoons of pitted Taggiasca olives, 1 bunch of chopped parsley, juice of 1/2 lemon, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. Optional: Fresh parmesan flakes, grenadine seeds

Method: Take the fennel bulbs and, after washing and trimming them, removing a slice from the bottom and the green stalks, stand them upright. Cut each bulb in half from top to bottom, starting from the widest part. Then, with the flat side on the cutting board, slice it as thinly as possible. As you cut it, drizzle it with lemon juice to prevent it from turning dark and oxidizing.

Peel the oranges, removing the skin from each segment. Alternatively, simply cut each segment in half.

Next, mix all the ingredients together and season with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and extra virgin olive oil.

Garnish the salad with sprigs of parsley, the optional grenadine seeds and parmesan flakes

Enjoy your fennel and orange salad!

The 6 Keys to Happiness

Real Happiness is not based on external circumstances.

This is one of the main lessons we receive in our studies of yoga philosophy, so how can you feel more happiness even if life is not always up to giving it?

These are the 6 keys to happiness:

1. Know Yourself

Get to know yourself on deeper levels. Use your yoga practice to connect to the part in you that is everlasting, permanent through all of life’s changes. Your soul’s essence always remains at ease and in peace, you’ll get to know it with meditation and a calm mind, mostly in moments of stillness.

Knowing yourself also includes getting to understand what triggers you and acknowledging your “dark sides” and your limitations. Yin Yoga is a wonderful practice for this.

2. Fulfill Your Potential

Seeds need sun, water and nutrition in order to grow. In the same sense you need to gather your forces and your power to fulfill your potential, your desires. Who are the people who see you and support you to grow? What practices help you gain more confidence and courage?

3. Be Courageous

Choose to live from your heart, no matter if life’s circumstances are pleasant or challenging. Cultivate your intuition and follow it. Become aware of the power of intention and resolve, it will help you push through any obstacles. You are committed to stay true to yourself and this will make you feel proud of yourself.

4. Serve The Greater Good

Remember that you are a part of the bigger web, you are not isolated. Whenever self doubt and fear creeps in remember the greater good and how you can serve with what you have to offer. This will be stronger that your ego which might want to keep you small. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world, so keep sharing your story and your light.

Here’s a wonderful quote by Martha Graham:

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.”

5. Non-Attachment To The Outcome

Ever felt a deep inner calling? Maybe you didn’t follow it because you were to concerned about the outcome? Let go of the attachment to the outcome, do what you need to do because it’s your inner calling. You will find a deep satisfaction in doing so and inspire others to follow. The universe works in magical ways!

6. Have Faith

Cultivating faith is the understanding that life is perfect in all its imperfections. It doesn’t need to be any different for you to be happy. Trust that life reflects back to you exactly what you need to learn to grow. Imperfection leads to Evolution. Your affirmation: I may need to change, but Life does not.

Which of the 6 keys resonated most with you? I love to hear from you in the comments. And if you’d like to listen to these 6 keys in a yin yoga practice please head over to Dagmar’s YouTube channel for the video. Enjoy!

Sound, Silence and the exploration of Consciousness

When I was in my late teens and after moving out from my parents home, I was living in a small apartment in Italy that was located on a busy main street. At times when I was in the kitchen preparing a cup of tea or doing nothing in particular, I would notice that the sound of the traffic on the road or the water boiling in the tea kettle was suddenly carrying a particular flavor, very difficult to describe…almost like a mixture of nostalgia and longing: as if every sound had a long tail, like an echo. They were also losing any connotation like being pleasurable or disturbing. They would become just sounds, devoid of any quality I would usually attribute to them….almost as if they would become perfect just as they were.

Those particular moments remained an unresolved mystery for me, until a few years later: 

I am sitting in a large meditation hall in India listening to my spiritual teacher Osho, commenting on some writings of a Zen master who is describing the different stages one encounters when entering deeper states of meditation. 

My attention awakens in the moment I hear Osho reading from the Zen master’s text something like: 

“…and as you move deeper into your inner silence and stillness all sounds start having a particular quality, like an echo…as if coming from a distant valley…” 

This was the first time anyone would give words to that unusual experience I had and it helped me realize that these moments happened when I was in a generally relaxed and unoccupied state of mind, like a natural state of meditation. 

Often the same experience would happen to me while listening to Osho talk. Just sitting there, with nothing to do…just listening…and suddenly all sounds seemed to be situated in the perfect space and time with an incredible sweetness to them. A train whistling in the distance, a dog barking, the sound of a woman sweeping the street, a child crying or the wind blowing through the bamboo… in those moments every sound became an intrinsic part of the great symphony of the present moment. 

To add to my intrigue, quotes from various masters also began to come my way: 

“When I am silent, I fall into the place where everything is music.” – Rumi 

“Where is the door to God? 

In the sound of a barking dog 

In the ring of a hammer 

In a drop of rain 

In the face of everyone I see.” – Hafiz 

“Start listening to sounds, let music be your meditation. 

Listen to the sounds, all kinds of sounds. They are all divine – even the market noise, even the sounds that are created in the traffic. This airplane, that train … 

all sounds have to be listened to so attentively, silently and lovingly… as if you are listening to music. 

And you will be surprised: you can transform all sounds into music; they are music.”  – Osho 

I started to explore this open door into the ever-present moment, and during these explorations I discovered that 

the space in which all sounds echo, or “the valley” as described above, is an ever present silence. 

Just like light cannot exist without darkness or matter without space, sound cannot exist without silence. 

We could say that silence is for the ears what space is for the eyes. 

In fact, to me music is an attempt to play those notes (objects) – to arrange them together – in a harmonious way that does not override silence but enhances it. Like in interior design or in Feng Shui one tries to place furniture in a fashion that creates a feeling of harmony, where space is not “filled” but “played” with and emphasized. 

One of the problems I encountered is that it can be difficult to tune into silence or space because our attention is very much object-oriented rather than space-oriented. 

For example, if I were to enter a room the first thing I would notice would be the furniture and not the space per se – even when “room” actually means “space”. 

So let’s say that in a room there is a piano and some chairs and I decide to take the piano to another room. When I return and I look where the piano had been standing, what do I see? Space. 

Removing the object revealed the space that was there before the piano arrived and is there after the piano has been removed. In other words, it was always there but it was “occupied”. At the same time the space between the chairs also helps to distinguish where one chair ends and another starts. So we can say that all objects exist in space, are contained by space and are also defined by space. 

In the same way we can perceive all sounds as floating in an ever-present silence. Silence contains them and defines them. When a sound ends, silence becomes more obvious and tangible, although it was there all the time. Silence is the container and sound is the contained. 

Silence is the blue sky within which all sound-clouds move. 

Silence is the white canvas on which all sounds are painted. 

Our physical senses can be precious anchors and doorways into the present moment. If we give our full attention to deep listening, in that very moment we are taking away the fuel from the continuous stream of thoughts, redirecting that energy into presence. 

This makes listening a great meditation tool (and the same is true for the other senses). 

But to have this tool activated it is necessary that we are able to listen to any of the sounds without labeling them  either “pleasant” or  “disturbing” and this allows us to listen from a non-dualistic space. 

The moment we judge a sound we are back in the dualistic world of the mind and we will not be able to enter the door of Oneness and perceive its divine qualities. 

This is not unlike our sitting meditation practice when we observe thoughts coming and going without getting involved and without judging them as “good thoughts” or “bad thoughts”. The moment we start judging them we are back in the turning wheel of the mind. 

As a listener, did you notice that the more quiet you become, the more you can hear? 

To me, this points to the fact that whatever perceives sound is the silent space inside of us and the more silent we can become the better sounds can be perceived and defined, and their divine “sweet” nature revealed. Every sound thus, even the most mundane, becomes a doorway to a deeper reality. 

Through this process one is bound to stumble upon the understanding that all sounds perceived by us as coming from the outside and floating into space-silence are also perceived inside of us in space-silence. 

At this point one starts wondering if there is actually any separation between the “outside” and the “inside”… could it be that the ever-present space-silence outside of our body is the SAME as the one inside of us? Could it be that there is no inside and outside as far as space-consciousness is concerned? 

I often asked myself what is it in me that perceives sounds? The ears are only a channel, an entryway, but sound is perceived at a deeper level. This becomes obvious to me every time I enter or come out of sleep: if sounds were perceived just by the ears then I would be able to hear sounds all the time even while I am asleep. But I don’t. As I fall deeper into sleep, sounds are no longer there (that is why people can fall asleep in front of a blaring TV screen). 

When I am conscious sounds are there but when I am unconscious they disappear, therefore whatever is perceiving sound seems to be related with consciousness. 

At times, I experience an empty silent space inside of me where no ripples are created by any wandering thoughts. I question: is this where consciousness dwells? Or is this what consciousness is ? 

Indeed it seems to me that the closest thing comparable to consciousness is this space-silence. This leads me back to the fact that moving from an object-related awareness to a space-related awareness will bring about a deeper understanding of Self. 

Once I heard Osho say that senses are doorways, and as one can walk through the door to go outside, one can change direction and go inside through the same door. He said that senses are like a double pointed arrow. 

I personally resonate with this embodied approach to life, where the body and its senses are an integral part and expression of who we are as conscious beings on this planet. Many spiritual paths disregard the body as “not who we are”. To me this approach is not only a bit outdated but it can also be harmful as it recreates the dualistic separation between above and below, inside and outside, spirit and matter. 

Over the last few years this deepening relationship with sound and silence has inspired me to lead music meditations where music is used to point to the container: silence. 

As a musician, when I allow music to arise out of the inner silence, it carries a different quality. This is music that does not try to override silence but emerges from it. In this space, the contained and the container are interlaced in a harmonious play where sound eventually disappears back into the space from where it came, making silence more tangible, within and without. 

I can’t help but feel that like a sound-wave returning into the ocean of silence, I too will go back from where I came. It is as if each of us is a piece of music, a unique song existence has chosen to play out of the eternal silence, out of the space in which eventually we will all be reunited.

Shastro will be facilitating the Journey in Mindfulness Retreat at Mandali the 21-25 August 2023, for those who would like to deepen their meditation practice with his playful and sincere approach.

6 Tips to Improve your Meditation Practice

The fastest way to improve your meditation practice is to see everything you do during the day as an opportunity to cultivate pristine awareness. Show up for life with eyes wide open! Show up for the small stuff especially. That’s where you want to fall asleep. It’s easy for the mind to wander when you feel bored by a small task.  

Meditation in action also known as mindfulness, is an opportunity to practice continuum awareness. To stay connected to the present moment, you want to turn every activity of the day into an opportunity to deepen your practice.

Meditation is not just about sitting on a cushion with your eyes closed. It’s about being alert, awake and open to the moment you are living in. When you meditate on the task at hand, you are creating a conscious relationship with your experience as it arises.

These are the six areas we advise would be beneficial to train yourself not to let your mind wander off. 

1)    Dishes – Pay attention to how you scrub the food particles and the order of which dishes you wash first and how you stack the dishwasher. Are you slouching? Are your feet squarely grounded on the floor? Are your body and spine straight? Notice if you are resisting the task. 

2)    Taking a shower – Activate your sense of touch and feel the temperature of the water. How do you touch and wash your own body. Slow down and be present to the foam, the bubbles and how you scrub yourself. Are you rushing to get to the next moment? 

3)    Folding laundry – Practice precision awareness. Make elegant folds and breath into the experience. Learn to master space in your closets and feel how different textures require different handling. 

4)    Driving a car – Practice multi-directional awareness. Be aware of the space in front, behind, left, and right – Pay attention to your breath as you inhale and exhale. When your mind wanders, gently redirect your attention back to the breath and the road. At every stop sign and light, take a conscious breath. Are you rushing to get somewhere?

5)    Sweeping – Find your flow. Connect the body to breath. We call this the dancing meditation. You aren’t sweeping. You are dancing with life and with every swish of the broom, the past is being released. 

6)    In Conversation (advanced practice) – While talking or listening, focus on their eyes primarily but look at their lips once and awhile. Be aware of your heart when you speak and your inner ear lobe when you are listening. Pay attention to how ideas, opinions and words cause emotional reactivity and stay cool. Keep returning to insight questions: Do I have all the facts? Is this true? What is this person really wanting to share with me?

by Evangelos Diavolitsis and Nishta Matarese

Evangelos and Nishta are international Dharma, meditation and movement teachers and the founders of Four Ways to Freedom.

Beautiful – is being taken care of by the ones you love

Recently, we have had a massive earthquake in Turkey. Due to human greed and negligence, the aftermath of the natural disaster was devastation. A few days after the tragedy, I went to teach at a Mandali Experience and a very dear friend of mine went to the devastation zone to help. After we both returned, we shared experiences. 

What he told me about being a disaster victim, shook me to my core. Because he himself had been a victim of the ’99 earthquake, he was able to see in others what he himself had experienced so many years ago. This is how he described the human condition in a disaster zone:

“One night you go to bed and you have everything. Even if you are not wealthy, you still have a roof over your head, you have your family, you have your belongings and most importantly, you have your life. The next day, you have almost nothing. You are in need of even that one glass of water that someone is going to give you. You see, the ego is slow. It does not catch up with reality so fast. It is so difficult to accept that within a matter of seconds, you have gone from having everything to needing everything. And it is very challenging to come to terms with accepting help from others.”  

Meanwhile, I was teaching yoga during a Mandali Experience and before one of our practices, I asked my fellow yogis, “What is beautiful?”. I was trying to draw our awareness to a completely different perspective and for the question I could have picked any adjective or noun, any word basically but coincidentally I chose beautiful. One of the participants came up with a definition that resonated deeply with all of us: “Beautiful is being taken care of by the ones you love”. 

From what I observe, for most of us, giving comes more naturally than receiving. We define our roles as mothers, fathers, partners, siblings, daughters, sons, friends, employers, employees mostly in terms of what we give. But when it comes to receiving, we are mostly amateurs. I know I am. I am so used to being strong and capable and self-sufficient that when I am not so, I find it difficult to ask for support from my fellow humans. So as I am writing these lines, I am not preaching. I am sharing a vulnerability that I am currently and constantly working on. Listening to the heartfelt sharings of Mandali Experience participants and to the stories of earthquake victims, I know I am not alone. 

We all have a lot to learn on the beauty of being taken care of. And maybe, we can fine tune ourselves to learn to see and experience this beauty without needing dramatic life circumstances like natural disasters or illnesses.

Can we learn to ask for and receive support from others in the more ordinary moments of life when all we need is a simple hug, or someone’s undivided and non-judgemental attention for a few minutes, or just the comfort of sitting with someone without a need for words?

Can we learn to ask for and receive support from others before unmet simple needs amalgamate to bitter scorn?

What I have come to observe on the art of receiving is that where we come from is what makes all the difference. The ego is capricious and unbendable. When in need it becomes bitter and scornful. It expects but cannot communicate. When disappointed, it screams and scolds. When receiving it is uncomfortable and critical. The heart on the other hand is generous and malleable. When in need it is communicative, receptive and rewarding. There is not a human being who will not be touched and transformed by responding and giving to another human asking and receiving from the heart. It is a mutually enriching experience.

We are all living in an ego driven and ego rewarding global society. Within such a challenging social environment, the art of being human lies in mastering to keep an open heart. A heart that is not only generous in giving but also gentle yet courageous in asking and receiving. 

Interview: Parenting in a new world – with George Maddick

In this inquisitive and open conversation with George, we learn about his journey of becoming a young father, building his life and family according to his vision of a world more connected to the earth. He is also an integral part of our Mandali family, passionately taking care of our gardens and grounds. All the stunning photography in this article are by also by George.

Has becoming a father changed you, and contributed to your spiritual growth?

Yes, definitely, and at an intense speed! What comes to mind first is about being a man, stepping into my masculinity and embracing what it means to be a father and the want to provide, to create a safe space for growth, with a child on the way and arriving. I revealed myself, put my true self forward, rather than showing a mask. 

Then also, seeing how nature, the garden, has been showing me how it mirrors being a parent. How natural the kids are, like an open book. Each page is so authentic and real, they don’t ask anything in return, you are just able to receive them as children, as they are. It is like the garden, the forest, they just are, it’s the same.

Everything I learn by being a parent, I can take to other areas of my life, my work, my relationship with my partner, my friends and the way I see the world. I see my kids interact, share their love with others, not just mum and dad,  and completely trust people of different ages, and that has shown me a lot about possessiveness, and giving acceptance and freedom, to them and my partner. 

I grew in every aspect, being a conscious parent, better partner, friend and having a sense of purpose in the way we are creating our life.

What are some things you do differently than from the way you were raised, discipline, for example?

When the kids arrived, I saw how deeply ingrained our social conditioning is about what it means to raise a family, even though I knew that the ‘traditional’ way is not how we wanted to do things. 

Working in the garden shows me that getting away from social conditioning is simply growing new branches, going off into different directions, expanding, in a different and better way, naturally. The kids too, are new branches, different to us, and if we let them grow uninhibited, we can learn from them too. We just have to give them time and space, and be curious about who they are.

When it comes to ‘discipline’ it’s a challenge, because I experienced it in the ‘traditional’ sense. I try to cancel out specific words from my vocabulary, the word ‘discipline’ itself, as I don’t think it necessarily needs to exist. It closes doors and space kids need to develop, to push barriers and grow.  If one of them is doing something wrong, like say, drawing on the walls, I check first what he is trying to create, to be interested in what he is doing, try to listen and understand his project, before I try to save the wall. 

It’s also so important to just be able to have a conversation, father to son, like a friend. The other day one of the boys experimented cutting his own hair for the first time, and when he realised what he had done, many hours of intense emotions followed (as you can imagine). We gave him the space to explore those feelings, and at the end I was able to talk to him, ‘Hey man, that’s what happened, you did it to yourself, it’s gonna be fine.’ It’s important to create that trust.

As an artist yourself,  how do you encourage creativity in your kids?

One of the boys is great at languages, so my first instinct was to push him, are you good at that? Let’s get better. Then I caught myself, wait, do you want to get better? Or are you just good at that? And then having the confidence to say, ‘Ok, you’re good at that. And if you want to do more, we do more. But you’ve reached a level which was enjoyable for you, so if you want to stop, that’s ok too.’  

You have to be the parent, it’s our job to guide them and give them the field in which to be creative and then look after the boundaries, like the shepherd. Just provide the field, and they will grow. I can’t go into the field and start pushing them too much in any direction they need to explore it. I think we’re able to see that in everything that they do. 

You are very connected to nature and the outdoors, what are some things you do with your kids to share that passion?

We go into the forest all the time, it’s just part of who we are. It’s so normal, that sometimes they push back a little, they would rather go and hang out in the supermarket (to my dismay) 🙂 , do something that’s the polar opposite. But the moment they are in the forest, it’s obvious that it’s part of their inner language. Their nature is to be outside and the forest their home. They go with the flow and know how to play and have fun, which is really nice to see.

Do you wish, as a family unit in your own way, that you can help change the world a little? 

I think that as a family we can be a blueprint for others, an example of how easy it can be to  live in a simple way, where less is more, where we live in tune and with nature’s rhythm. 

Our traditional way of doing things is very ingrained in us,  our consumer life-style where our values are based on economic growth is what’s ‘normal’.  So a more holistic and wholesome approach seems like something very far removed, impossible to achieve. But it isn’t, we are doing it, and others around us too. It is much easier than it seems!

If we continue to prioritise providing money, and busying ourselves with work and projects, we are actually missing the biggest opportunity for our family’s and the world’s growth.

I really think that the most important thing that the world needs is examples of how easy it is to do what we once did so naturally. I feel we have just overslept and we all have to wake up eventually. 

There’s no separation between anything that we do whether it’s in an office, outdoors, or any job you have. Let’s question ourselves, if it’s not aligned with the benefit of the planet, our people and all creatures of the natural world, then why are we doing it? 

About George:

George Maddick is a passionate horticulturist with a deep understanding of the role nature plays in all aspects in today’s world. Seeing how nature gives, and also what it needs,  is a reminder and reflection of ways that we can improve our physical and mental health, in turn providing a healthier and more vibrant environment. He enjoys exploring boundaries in both his work and personal life, in how deep we can go in better understanding the clear messages nature is providing us everyday.  In this way,  we can learn to fall back in line with our most important rhythm – the one nature has provided for us.

Interview: What I love about ageing – with Prema

What’s the most rewarding thing about getting older?

I experience that time has more space. I can breathe deeply, I experience more space inside my container, like it is getting bigger inside. The capacity of including more things, situations are less black and white. There is an understanding that brings grace, and I am more patient and accepting.

I have more of a 360 degree point of view, and better able to see the bigger picture. It might have to do with the fact that I have been on a spiritual path for 40 years, it could be a result of that. I feel open, spacious. Also, a big bonus, I don’t have to worry about what men think anymore!

Who was the most influential person in your life?

My father. He was always supportive of me, whatever I was interested in, encouraging me, making me feel I could do anything, he never said no. This gave me so much independence and freedom to be myself. We had a lot in common about philosophy and literature. He had so many ideas, he even built a theater for us as kids, he taught us how to express emotions without violence, he was an amazing story teller. He was my first teacher. He taught us how to paint with our hands and feet, he was wild and fun. We loved Nietzsche, Dostoievsky, Kirkegaard, and poetry, because of him.

Later on, Osho was my spiritual teacher, and funnily enough – the first book by him was given to me by my dad. He was proud of me choosing the spiritual path.

As a 40-year-old, what advice would you give me?

Don’t choose your path in life because of a man!

When you think of ageing, what emotions does it trigger?

I feel gratitude and happiness, because I have experienced a lot of love in my life. I had beautiful love stories and friendships, each relationship the right one for my age at the time. It is so important to feel loved, to do what you do in every age.

What’s your favorite invention that was released in your lifetime?

I was very excited by my first mobile phone, for sure! My ex-husband and I both got a phone at the same time, and we loved calling each other randomly. It was the first banana Nokia. It struck me to realize that I could reach someone on the street at any time.

How has your definition of beauty changed?

When I was young, I was glowing, very beautiful and I had a lot of attention from men. I was so bothered by the attention, and also, a part of me enjoyed it. On the other hand, it also made me feel vulnerable. I am happy that I am free of all that; I had the love I wanted, I felt desired so I don’t feel like I regret anything.

Now I feel what makes me beautiful with age is my inner space, my capacity to be comfortable with myself, forgiving myself and others. It makes me feel beautiful, and I don’t need others to tell me that.

My body is changing, my face is changing – I’m very different. So the outer look is not the same, but the beauty I feel inside is immense. I feel so good, I see wisdom, openness and my cup is full. I have a great understanding of others, I see people, and I feel proud of that. I also feel the true love I receive from people is from those who really see me for who I am, and it comes from those who truly count. Sometimes that makes me a little sad, and I recognize the need to confront that.

I really love what I see when I look at myself.

If you could go back to any age, which would it be?

Between 25-35, for sure. At 25 I joined a commune, and I felt that I found the reason for coming into this world. I dove into inner seeking completely, and it became very clear that my life would be dedicated to service of my own inner realization and that of others. I don’t see those two as separate things, so a communal setting is my way to go, it is where inner transformation can happen.

I’m not in a commune anymore, but that’s where I realized the impact of a buddha field a group can create.

One of my favorite quotes:
“The next Buddha will not take the form of a person.

The next Buddha will rather take the shape of a community, a community that practices understanding and loving kindness, a community that practices a way of conscious living.

This may be the most important thing for Earth’s survival.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

What should we not waste time on, as 30/40 year olds?

Making others happy, caring too much about what others think. I did it for a while, and I regret it, I felt I wasted 6 years of my life. It’s like I took a pause in life from the age 37-43, I didn’t follow my own gut and was living in a dream, wanting to fulfill other people’s expectations.

As you enter this new season of life, how has it impacted your relationship with spirituality?

It has changed a lot. I’ve been very fortunate to meet great masters in my youth who gave me the foundations to my spirituality. This was important, I really learned the art of surrender. It is different now, I am not anymore focused on someone else, a teacher, a master. My spiritual world is much broader now, and since then I feel that on this path I’m truly on my own.

Even though I still have great realized teachers now, people I seek out for consolation, I do not call them my guru and I am not in search of masters. Things are happening on a different level now. I see my own wisdom, which is inside all of us. After all these years, I feel like I have a opened a door to this wisdom, which I can access when I need to and it is always available to me to dive into. When I listen to spiritual teachers now, it just deepens my connection into that door, that space, which is myself.

The biggest gratitude I have for a master is when I sit in front of them and I see myself.

What do you most value at the age 65? Who are you most interested in spending time with?

I love spending time with very close women friends and I enjoy deep intimate talks. I love to talk about life, how we are walking through it. I love listening to stories from others, both men and women. I’m not interested in superficial small talk, except for when it comes to clothes and shoes 🙂

I also love spending time in silence with people, going on walks, to a cafe, not necessarily talking all the time. I like spending time with people who enjoy silence.

And, I enjoy my own company very much, I love being by myself. Its necessary for me to have my own space.

I do love a good party, but with the right people. What I value the most is true friendship.

About Prema

Prema Bellucci is the Vision Holder of Mandali, and oversees the Mandali Experience Programme. Her passion for self-discovery and helping others find their home within themselves is her life’s purpose, a purpose shared by Mandali. Her care and dedication is felt in all the details of your experience as a retreat participant.

The Art of Journaling

We are living in some unprecedented times. Many people are struggling and words like pressure, rush, mental health, suicide, social media, addiction, drugs – these are almost the new normal.  As a result, more and more people have trouble with finding themselves in a good place emotionally and mentally.

What is that feeling that something is not right?

It is easy to lose the connection with ourselves and our feelings, in a world where we are over-stimulated 24-7 by work, social media, expectations, etc. We are not aware of our thoughts and our behaviours, se we lose touch with our inner world. We live our lives the best we can, we go go go. Many people have trouble saying no and with standing up for themselves. In these hectic times we have so many options and choices, it’s hard to know where to go. We continue to run and we don’t stop.

So what can we do?

Press the “pause bottom”, as Prema from Mandali always says. We are looking for happiness and peace and balance but we don’t know how to get there. Because we have not learned how to deal with emotions and feelings and we are not self-aware, of our behaviors as well as our thoughts.

This is where journaling comes in. Taking time out to sit down and think and write down your thoughts is extremely healing, and also empowering. That moment to pause. Writing is literally letting go. Letting go of our thoughts is like an instant relief.  Like a tire that loses its pressure. We feel safe when we write, and a bonus is that we are in the present moment while doing it 🙂To be in your own mind in your own time is just an incredible feeling. It gives ourselves the attention that we so much need, we put ourselves first. It is an act of self-love, real Me-Time.

There are many ways of journaling

  • Intuitive writing (writing what-ever comes to mind), a story that needs to be told 
  • a life plan, wishes and dreams
  •  writing about your behavior and feelings,
  • writing about day-to-day life, your daily thoughts.
  • writing when you are sad or angry

All of these forms are good. They allow us to release what is burning inside of us, and by letting it go, we start to look at our thoughts and patterns in a different, more lighter and neutral way.  

While writing, we begin to see things more clearly and honestly, and “open for change”. We can change perspective on the way we see our own lives and the world – which has often been distorted. We start really being our own best friend, and take control of our lives. Like in an aeroplane, we need to take the oxygen mask first before we can help other people. Once we are there you will understand that your thoughts are not true, often on repeat,  we can change them into new and better ones. So we can start to live our lives authentically – YOUR dream life that you always dreamt of.

After a difficult time in my life, going through a depression, and finding my way slowly again in new and better circumstances, I was looking for a way to share what I learned to help others. I especially wanted to help young people living in these times, where it’s so easy to get overwhelmed and lose touch with themselves, by giving them tools which will help make their life easier through self reflection. That’s why I came up with a simple and fun 4 step method that I have combined with a journal, called MY JOURNAL. It guides people to reflect, write and find themselves so they can create their own manual and start doing what is right for them so they become balanced, whole and happy. Because we all want to feel peaceful and in the present moment, because that is where the magic happens. The reactions up till now have been really impressive. 

I wrote this book with the purpose to heal the world a bit. Since I believe, as all the teachers at Mandali do too, that if we like and love ourselves (self love) we will automatically be kind to others. So let’s all do that, in our own way, let’s spread some love.

”Let’s allow journaling to be our meditation. Nothing more, nothing less.” – Beth Kempton

About Maggie Maris

Maggie is a friend of Mandali and shares our vision being a point of light in the world, helping others through her work. She is the author of MY JOURNAL and MY WAY, beautiful journaling tools to help to self-reflect and grow in your journey of self discovery. Her books are published in Dutch and soon in English, for more information please go here: www.maggiesway.n IG: @maggies.way

Unravelling the Mystery of Self-Confidence

When we start a new project or interact with new people, relationships in general and intimate relationships, we need a certain ground, a certain degree of self-confidence that we will be able to handle what comes up and can deal with potential difficulties and unforeseen events. We need to feel relaxed,
settled in ourselves and ready to embrace success, failure and all the possibilities in between so we can engage with the vicissitudes of life with ease.

Self-confidence is not a thought, not a belief, not an emotion but something more subtle, almost innate, not something that is coming from anything but ourselves.

Self-confidence is also not the guarantee of success, success is a desirable outcome but is not the real drive, the drive is the desire of being fully engaged with life, to fully participate.

When self-confidence is not present, we don’t feel capable, we are uncertain if we want to venture or not, and we feel the absence of the underlying, innate sense of confidence.

“Self-confidence isn’t a thought or an emotion, it’s something innate and
subtle that comes from within. Cultivate it by staying present in the moment
and letting go of the need to control outcomes.”

When that happens we develop all kinds of psychological maneuvres to avoid the underlying sense of deficiency and inadequacy stemming from the idea of potential failure and the fact that we cannot foresee all the possible outcomes and twists to our venture.

Some try to summon self-confidence by simply believing that they will be able to succeed, and some summon self-confidence by seeking confirmation about the belief that they will make it through others around them, especially people close to them. That strategy can work for a while but it can easily be
shaken by just a simple comment from someone we trust, a remark, or even a simple joke. When that happens we feel deflated and collapsed or in certain cases, we react and start to attempt to prove that we are capable, we might even get into an argument about it. We can engage in endless internal conversations in an attempt to find evidence to support that belief but often the perceived certainty can be shaken very easily.

So what is Real Self-confidence, where is it arising from, and how come it is there, we are not even thinking about it? How can it be so obvious when we see it present in others that we almost envy them for it?

In our work, we have seen that self-confidence stems from our connection to ourselves, in our capacity to stay focused on our current experience, with what is really happening now. That connection will inspire us, gauge our capacities in real time and inform us on how much we can do, when, and what we might need to learn to be able to continue in our journey. Sometimes we might need to slow down, sometimes we might need to push, it all depends on the circumstances and our actual capacities and resources available.

How do we connect with ourselves to the extent that we find our innate self- confidence?

We find out that we need to actually relax into ourselves, and when we stop trying, we will naturally do what we are capable of and learn how to do what we are not yet capable of. We also learn how to stop when it’s not really worth the effort. It’s a kind of inner wisdom that is arising from being a human.
Sometimes we fail, and sometimes we succeed, all that is part of our learning experience and we welcome both. The losses are not seen as such, but are actually necessary learning experiences that will help us be the best version of ourselves.

In practice, we basically need to learn how to be present, be in the moment, relax and wait for the innate impulse to arise spontaneously. Sometimes we might lose faith and go back to trying, not out of the love for that action but to escape the uncomfortable feeling of the absence of self-confidence. In those
cases, we might peruse things that are not actually close to our hearts just to fill the sense of lack.

Self-confidence is not arising from our mind, so thinking about success or failure is just a way to disconnect from our gut’s wisdom and consequentially feel insecure, the head cannot do the job of the gut. Like when we are going for a hike and come across an obstacle, if we think about it too much, that is if to jump or not, we end up misgauging our step and stumble. When we trust our instincts, so to say, we mostly make it without any problem and if the gap is too big we just jump inside it or find a way around it.

Our gut does not work only for physical situations but also for life direction and our sentimental life, we need guts to start a new business and to tell someone we love them. So, the simple practice to be present in the moment can awaken our connection with our gut and as a consequence our innate instinctual
capacities. We can then trust ourselves, experiencing that as an innate sense of capacity and confidence.

In conclusion, self-confidence is not something that can be summoned or faked. It comes from a deep connection to ourselves and the ability to stay present and focused on our current experience. It is not about striving for success at all costs, but rather about fully engaging in life and embracing all
the ups and downs that come with it. By learning to relax into ourselves and trust our innate wisdom, we can find the self-confidence needed to face any challenge and embrace our journey with ease.

Remember, the next time you find yourself lacking self-confidence, take a moment to connect with
yourself and trust in your own capabilities. You may be surprised at just how capable you truly are.

Emilio Mercuriali is a teacher of the Diamond Logos. Join him for his study retreat series ‘Journey to Essence’

Journey to Essence

The road to Freedom is a long game, but there are shortcuts…

Freedom is a word, a practice, an action, a feeling, and a state of mind. We often speak of our right to live in a free environment but what exactly does this mean? There are precious moments where individual decisions can really make a difference to society at large. The wrong word or action can destroy everything in an instant. Where do you personally lose your awareness and kindness when it’s most needed? 

Do we believe that implementing government policies focused on freeing a country of injustice, prejudice, violence, or poverty will miraculously heal a community and empower us to make healthy decisions on an individual moment-to-moment basis? Countries and governments are made up of individuals who make countless decisions. Many of them are irrational and destructive. What state of mind are these powerful decision makers in when deciding the fate for all of us?  Using war as a solution to life’s problems reflects a group of leaders who are at war with themselves. How many wars (arguments) did you start this week with your lover, neighbour, friend, or work colleague? Were you equanimous or acting out old story lines?   

Is it possible in a world where people have very little time for inner work, for socially conscious policies to change a person’s ability to make virtuous decisions in the heat of the moment? Even if changemakers are full of altruistic motivations, can they implement individual change from the outside in?  Thus far it seems that global decisions keep sliding into ‘me” versus ‘you’ psychic warfare. The common struggle is the unaware ‘me’ versus the emotional ‘reactive’ me. In this dialogue, the conscious self gets buried in a battle of unconscious inner dialoguing. If people were truly aware and digging, they would not be ignoring how inner conflicts between body, speech and mind waste time and energy. Admitting the inner discord is the heart-core of our work at Four Ways to Freedom.

The truth is that we are a planet in pain, and we must get to work. The planet is one day away from mutually assured destruction. We know it but many of us feel helpless. How do we change the world? How do we create a road towards loving one another, working together, and living in peace? It starts with individual responsibility.  We all have a responsibility to first heal ourselves and help heal the hearts of the many wounded walking on earth, lost without a path or an understanding of ultimate freedom.  We keep putting political band aids on societal pain without an understanding of the fundamental causes. Human pain is the result of an unexamined life. As Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living”.  The road to freedom requires radical self-honesty before any type of outer freedoms can be successfully implemented by a collective.  

America is supposed to be the land of the free but if you pay close attention, with all their freedoms written in legal code, what freedoms are being enacted? Thus far in 2022 there have been 576 mass shootings.  Without deep inner work, can a society free itself from the madness of one another’s entrapped anger? We are a species in deep hurt.

Step one – Admit it.

Step two – Do something about it and don’t dwell on being a victim, a rescuer or pointing the finger at the perpetrator. On the road to freedom the most precious resource is time!  Spend the time cultivating a loving heart of creative compassion.

The road to freedom requires profound investigation. Many of us live in a state of frantic self-imprisonment and even when our outer conditions change for the better, we barely notice because we are so busy fighting our own agitation.  We’ve inherited an old world of egocentric tribal values through our parents and a myriad of outdated organizational models. We barely recognize that how we choose to respond to a world of conditioned phenomena is painfully predictable and not at all in the spirit of free choice.  

Stated differently, our ingrained conditioned negative habits create our perception of a hostile outer world. Of course the world is often hostile but that does not mean we need to behave the same way.  Worldly material conditions might be improving but do we take notice given our simultaneously inner mental stresses are dramatically increasing due to over stimulation. The news and social media are a good mirror for our madness which is why we recommend that people take time for retreats and practice digital detoxes. The solution to alleviating the endless struggles…Practice continuum awareness without reacting or adding to the madness.

The road to freedom requires that you show up with eyes wide open

We work with a lot of people who are not so certain of the path they are on and where it is supposed to be leading them. Some will say: “I just go with the flow of life”. This is dangerous as mob mentality can easily influence directionless people on a road to the lowest common denominator. Some say to us: “I have not really thought about a path to freedom and don’t really have the time”. A sound piece of advice – Make the time now! The world needs you.

If we really pause and contemplate our personal road to freedom, we have been trying to free ourselves since conception. We free ourselves from the womb, we free ourselves from our parents at two years old because they keep saying no, we free ourselves from the constraints of schools, governments, countries, ideologies, challenging habits, from our bodies at death… The list could go on, but we are freeing ourselves from the habit of overly stating the obvious. There is a road to freedom that we are all walking, running, dancing, and skipping towards. The road is paved with tests, challenges, temptations, betrayals, rewards, triumphs, enemies, and allies. Where is this road leading us? Some say death because death, for some, is the ultimate freedom from life, but is it?  We might free ourselves from the burden of the body, but will we free ourselves from disturbing thoughts, emotions, and perceptions? People who have had near death experiences would argue that in death there is recognition, emotion, and old stories to resolve and release.  The road to freedom requires a solid look at how we liberate ourselves in life so we can die with dignity and a lightness of our being. This is one of the many benefits to doing inner work now. It paves an unobstructed wondrous road through life and death.

What inner delusions and attachments need to die on your road to freedom and what needs to be nurtured? Death is a transition point and the ease with which that happens depends on our ability to free ourselves of as many things as possible… freeing ourselves from anger, greed, confusion, jealousy, pride, unexamined beliefs, outdated concepts, the inner critic, and unreasonable expectations.  Letting go of something we really want is the road to freedom because you can’t be free or happy unless you are able to surrender here and now to the mystery. To be free, one must learn the ancient skill of interrupting their wild mind, their volatile emotions, and their reactive speech.

Life is an opportunity to master death. Most of our intimate relationships die, our jobs die, ideas die, our neighborhoods die, our beloved pets die… We are in a constant training of letting go without much awareness or gratitude. A good state dies, a difficult state arises to take its place and vice versa.  The road to freedom requires that we keep our positive states flowering for longer periods of time. These wholesome states need to be nourished and protected with love and practiced with others doing the same work.

The Road to Freedom requires 6 Essential Ingredients:

1) Learning to Pause – Our ability to stop the train of overwhelm and resetting our nervous system.  It means getting up off the work chair and breathing or going for a walk.  If you can do this, you start to free yourself from the pressure of always ‘doing’ and move towards ‘being’.

2) Meditation – This is the art of watching your inner world without reactivity

3) Physical Exercise – If your body is full of tension and pain due to inertia, you need to sweat it out.  Don’t expect to feel free even if the world is conspiring to give you all your material demands. You have a body that wants to be used in every way possible.

4) Compassion – Learning to be kind and caring for yourself under pressure filled situations.  How you talk on the inner plane matters. The subconscious is kicking up a cocktail of various inner critics, so you need to counterbalance this with a loving voice.  You can’t be free if you are beating yourself up. Remember the journey is to fall in love with everyone and everything, including yourself in every moment. If you can do this, the natural result is liberation from angst.

5) Curiosity – This means being able to ask questions rather than drawing unexamined conclusions about a situation: What is going on here? What am I missing? What is the truth? What are all the angles? What am I misunderstanding? Freedom needs investigation. Freedom from what? Freedom from whom?

6) Tranquility – If we are social justice warriors but go home to a hostile home environment what do we bring to work the next day…and the day after that?

If you follow the 6 essential ingredients to freedom, you will have mastery over yourself. You will feel free when the rest of the world is creating division and compartmentalizing. Eight billion people are waiting for political change to happen to live freely.  If you look deeply, freedom on the inside, means you start to have a positive impact externally one person at a time and that can spread like a social wildfire.

“By abandoning unhealthy inner views and attachments, you change how you act in the world and consequently you transform how you see it.”  ~ Four Ways to Freedom

Having mastery over oneself is what we call Absolute Freedom.  This requires training and recognizing the truth of the present moment…not spiritually by-passing selective things like money, sex or power but learning to feel and face the sticky truth, integrating it and moving on gracefully. Great freedom also comes with overcoming our own self-obsessed bullshit.  The path to freedom is moving from ME to WE to US to THIS moment.

This moment is where freedom lives and ignoring it is a betrayal to our most evolved self. Implementing political policy is a dicey and unpredictable road to freedom but doing individual inner work on oneself with a group of determined practitioners is the shortest path to mutually shared freedom.

Be Well! 

Evangelos Diavolitsis and Nishta Matarese

Evangelos and Nishta are international Dharma, meditation and movement teachers and the founders of Four Ways to Freedom. Join them for their next retreat at Mandali:

The Road to Freedom – Feb 2023 – 6-day Mindfulness Healing Retreat 

Meditation – Dharma – Movement – Art