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 

Gratitude: Our Human Superpower

Every creature on this planet has at least one superpower. Ants can carry 50 times their
own bodyweight, hummingbirds can fly backwards, humans can express gratitude. This
may sound trite, but gratitude is our superpower. A superpower we know about, pay lip
service too, but don’t fully take into our hearts and honour.

There is plenty of scientific research, proving what the wisdom traditions have always
known to be true: Gratitude makes us happier, healthier, and kinder.
How does our superpower work? Science has found that gratitude both triggers the
release of dopamine and serotonin and reduces cortisol levels.

This translates into gratitude:

Improves the quality of sleep
Strengthens the immune system
Alleviates physical pain
Optimises blood pressure and cardiac functioning
Improves digestions
Leads to greater emotional intelligence and resilience
Improves communication and interpersonal relationships
Deepens ones sense of connection with others and the planet.
Promotes empathy and self-love

Sounds like a superpower to me.
Let’s take a moment to explore this superpower. Is it possible to sense it for ourselves? To
feel it in our cells?

Take a few breaths and see how you are feeling at this moment. Notice where you are
reading this. At home, in transit? Is it quiet or loud? Are you at ease, stressed, a mix of
both? What are your internal vibes like? Notice your breath and how your body feels.
Take a few more breaths to fully feel into all of this.

Now take a moment and think of five things/people/places/etc you are grateful for.
Count them on your fingers. Breathe each one in and on the exhale offer it your gratitude.
I will breathe along with you. I am grateful for: My eyesight and the colour blue. The sound
of water. The taste of cinnamon. The smell of a cedar forest. The feeling of sunshine on
my belly.

How do you feel now? Was there a shift in your body or mood?
Each time I take a moment like this, where I pause and truly feel in freshly what am I
grateful for in the moment, I do notice the shift. Something, I hadn’t realised had frozen in
me, always melts. My shoulders drop. There is a sense of more space in my chest. I feel a
little lighter and more capacitated.

Of course, the beat passes. Life continues. Things get complicated, stressful, messy.…
Our superpower needs cultivation. There are three circumstances where we need to focus
on building up our capacity to be grateful:

  • When things are going badly
  • When things are fine
  • When thing are doing great

Let’s start with “when things are going great.” For example, you are on holiday or a retreat.
Many years ago, while I was on retreat, Luis, a volunteer at the center taught me a
precious grift. He taught me to say, “Yes thank you. That would be great.” Time after time,
Luis came up to me offering me things: an extra pillow, towel, hot water bottle (I was
camping and its was raining and cold). My reflex at first was to say, “no thank you. I’m
okay.” Each time I did, he looked so disappointed. When I changed my mind and said, “yes
please,” his face lit up. He practically ran off and to get me whatever extra treat it was he
wanted to share with me.

On the last day of the retreat, Luis was still eating lunch when I was bringing in my dishes.
He turned to me and asked, “Would you like chocolate covered strawberries?”
“That sounds amazing Luis. I would love some.” He jumped up with the biggest smile and ran into the kitchen. A moment later, he was there with a plate full of chocolate covered strawberries.

Luis taught me to delight his generosity. To accept it fully. To be grateful for the beauty and
comfort that is there and be open to even more. A favourite film always comes to mind
when I think of Luis. “Thankyouhappymoreplease.” That’s the title of film and such a
great way to meet life when thing are going well. “Thankyouhappymoreplease.”

What about accessing gratitude, “when things are going badly?” Like this summer, when
visiting my family after four years, I got an ear infection and ended up in the emergency
room in a lot of pain. It is natural at moments like this to give out. Equally natural is to feel
grateful. Lying in pain, I did my gratitude practice. I counted on my fingers what am I
grateful fir in this moment? Thankful for the hospital. Thankful for my access to it. Thankful
to all the people working in it. Thankful for the antibiotics and their superpower magic.
Thankful for my body. Yes thankful to my body that was in a lot of pain.

It’s so easy to blame and judge our bodies. To beat them up when they don’t work as we
want them to. My poor ear got attacked and it was doing all that is could to fight off the
infection. Bodies get injured and sick. Bodies age. That’s what bodies do and usually they
are blamed for it. In reality, they are doing their best with what they have got to keep us
alive and ticking. I think that deserves recognition and a whole lot of appreciation.

Of course it’s not easy to do when we are sick and in pain. But when we can, the pain, the
sickness, is so much easier to bear. Remember reading above, science has proven that
gratitude alleviates physical pain. It does. There is still pain but instead of being in conflict
with the pain, fighting the pain, we are befriending it. We are turning towards the difficult
sensations with our superpower. “Thank you body for doing your best. I know it is
really hard right now.”

Finally, how do we cultivate more gratitude “when things are fine?” This is the neutral
flavour, which I find can be the most tricky. We tend to tune out when things are just
flowing along. We distract ourselves and don’t fully pay attention to what is going on. This
leads to more automatic pilot living, which is a duller, more disconnect life.

One way to remember to practice gratitude in the normal moments is with a gratitude
stone. I love collecting tiny smooth stones from beaches or river beds. I often gift them to
others. Inviting people to keep them in the pocket of a favourite jacket or bag. Each time
your hand comes in contact with the stone, you pause and think of one thing you are
grateful for. Then you move on with your day.

It is a simple act and can read as cheesy, but I swear it makes a difference. The more we
practice gratitude, the more me make this a neural pattern. Changing it from a trait to a
state. Hebb’s Law states, “neurons that fire together, wire together.” Making happiness
easily accessible in our day to day living no matter what we currently encountering.
I will leave you with one last bit of science pertaining to our superpower. Expressing and
feeling gratitude affect the brain differently. There is more activity in the medial prefrontal
cortex when one expresses gratitude.

So feeling grateful is one thing, but expressing it is something that much more powerful. So I invite to do all the above out loud. Or if that is not your style, write it down. It’s pretty awesome knowing you have a superpower. It is even more fantastic using. Enjoy!

About Loving Kindness and Why Practice It

I never really understood the practice of Loving Kindness, metta, until recently. Sure, I had read
about it, heard about it in my trainings, practiced it, and even taught it, but somehow I didn’t
‘quite get it’. That is until I read Christina Feldman’s book Boundless Heart, The Buddha’s Path
of Kindness, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity.
In her book Feldman presents practicing Metta as
a verb: befriending. It is an attitude rather than a practice you turn ‘on and off’. She writes:
[metta] “is said to be the necessary foundational attitude underlying all meditative
development.”

Loving Kindness is not so much an emotion or state, but a way of approaching all experiences
with boundless friendliness. We can learn to befriend all people – including ourselves – and all
events and circumstances; the pleasant and the unpleasant, the beautiful and the ugly. This
doesn’t mean we have to like everyone or everything, but we can care about it and befriend it.

Insight practice allows us to gain insight into impermanence, ‘unsatisfactoriness’, and the
awareness of no-self. As an Insight practice, the cultivation of metta is directed toward
uncovering aversion, which is a symptom of unsatisfactoriness. Aversion can show up in many
ways: irritation, impatience, jealousy, hatred, belittlement, anger, etc. I don’t have to tell you
there is a lot of that in the world.

Loving Kindness is not so much an emotion or state, but a way of approaching all
experiences with boundless friendliness. We can learn to befriend all people
– including ourselves – and all events and circumstances; the pleasant and the
unpleasant, the beautiful and the ugly.

Aversion leads to depression and anxiety as there is no room in our heart for joy and
appreciation. From a Buddhist psychological perspective aversion, or: ill will, is rooted in fear –
the fear of loss, the fear of harm. When we are gripped by fear, we create in our mind the
sense of ‘other’ that we want to run away from or attack. We don’t want to feel this way so we
blame the other, or our circumstances. This blaming can become such a habit that we don’t
even notice we are doing it, nor the effects of it. Moreover, we often feel justified in our
aversion; we feel we have every right to hate people that are doing wrong in our eyes.
Unfortunately, we don’t realize the negative effects of that. As a Tibetan teacher said:

Do not take lightly small misdeeds,
Believing they can do no harm,
Even a tiny spark of fire
Can set alight a mountain.

So, we need to befriend aversion. Aversion is suffering that we can only end through our
willingness to be intimate with the landscape of it, in order for it to be understood. Ill will truly
holds the power to make us ill, as the body carries the burden of aversive thoughts and
emotions. Metta is intended to interrupt these negative thoughts and emotions.

Metta is a quality of mindfulness. It doesn’t ask for an ambitious desire to save the whole
world, but simply to rescue the mind and heart from moments of compulsive ill will. When we
commit to kindness in each moment, we stop feeding the habit of aversion and bring the
tendency of ill will to an end. It is a rotation of consciousness: rather than waiting for aversion to disappear for there to be space for kindness, it is through cultivating our capacity of
befriending adversity that affliction will be eased and healed.

The conscious cultivation of metta as a meditation practice uses simple phrases that give words
to the intention of metta. The keyword here is: intention. The words are less important, as long
as they are meaningful and feel easy. Each phrase is repeated slowly – either out loud or in your
mind – allowing space between each phrase to listen to the inward response.

There is no right response, however. We are not looking for a specific feeling or state of mind.
All responses are welcome and a reminder that we are practicing befriending. Through
sustaining our attention within the felt sense of befriending, we learn to deepen and sustain
the capacity of our hearts to abide in kindness. In doing so new neural pathways are being laid
in our brain and slowly we can reverse our habitual ways of reacting.

Traditionally, metta practice is offered first toward ourselves, then to a benefactor, a friend, a
neural person, and lastly to a difficult person. For example:

May I/you be well in the midst of difficulty.
May I/you be at peace.
May I/you rest with ease and kindness in this moment.

In the western world befriending oneself seems to be the most difficult for most people. Metta
practice should never be forced though and should be kept free of striving and expectations. It
is always an invitation and a conscious cultivation of intention and inclining our hearts toward
kindness.

As a practical application during your day, you could ask yourself these questions:

What does this moment need?

What is needed to free this moment of ill will and fear, and to rest in a boundless heart?

And as you practice loving kindness, remind yourself that you do not have to be ‘God-like’ to
fully embody it. It is through practicing that we strengthen our ability to be more kind. And that
is worth the effort; the world needs it.

Interview: Mantras – a Sacred Journey, with Thea Crudi

In this inspiring and captivating talk with Thea, she shares with us her story of her discovery and initiation of Mantra singing, her love of ancient Vedic philosophy and her passion of sharing it with the world through her beautiful music and teachings. At the end of the article you will also find a short Mantra practice to do at home.


Mandali: I’d love to hear about how you started your journey into music and performing at a such a young age. You began as a Jazz vocalist, having studied professionally at the conservatory, before you started singing Mantras?

Thea: I did indeed!  I attended the music conservatory in Italy and won a few scholarships, both to attend the conservatory in Amsterdam for a full year. Following a big musical project in Italy for my thesis, and my graduation, I won another scholarship for the conservatory of Java, India.

It was during my  time in Java that  had the opportunity to meet and study with some of the great spiritual masters of the island, which has a musical tradition that is very connected to shamanism, animism, Buddhism and others that are rare to get in touch with! I had the opportunity with these masters to learn to use my voice to transmit spirituality.

How did this transition feel for you? Was this the first exposure for you to the world of Eastern spirituality? It must have  been the beginning of a whole new chapter for you.

I have always been a spiritual baby since I was a kid, I’ve been spiritual in nature since I can remember with lots of questions and insights. We had a difficult family situation growing up, and while my parents were great, there was a lot of absence. My curiosity about something greater was a kind of a salvation, helping me deal with having to mature so quickly and the trauma of my short childhood. 

Shortly before going to Amsterdam, I was officially introduced to spirituality by a master and spiritual writer in Italy. Through his guidance and insights, my life completely changed, I was inspired, energetic, with a whole new vision of life. This opened the door to curiosity about Eastern traditions and by the time I was studying in Java, our friendship had developed and it prompted me to seek out spirituality in a different way, merging it with my passion for music, eventually discovering Mantra singing there.

What was your first experience with singing Mantras?

One day while in Java, I was sitting experimenting with a beautiful local instrument called the Gender (see picture), and suddenly I spontaneously began to chant Om Namah Shivaya, Om Namah Shivaya, and fell into a deep connection with it, without really knowing why, just being called to sing, it came out of me. 

Thea with the Gender, traditional Javanese instrument

Around the same time I was getting to know many spiritual people through the conservatory, and got to know some inspiring meditation teachers, authentic shamans and spiritualists in the community. 

Later on during that same day as I chanted my first mantra, coincidentally, I was invited by a Shaman to attend the festival of Shiva! His name was Bhima, and he said, ‘You are one of us, you have to come to this Shivaratri festival, there will be thousands of people, we had to ask permission to have you come with us, you are one of us, you must join.’ 

I went to the temple of Shiva, joined by a few other prominent people during the festival, and we were invited to a ceremony involving a psychic who was singing mantras, meditating, and other rituals, all very new and exciting to me. At one point she turned to me, looked me in the eyes, and I saw her eyes change, becoming big, almost cat-like, like a puma. She told me, ‘YOU have to do the ceremony, in the centre, here, sit and meditate. I feel you very close to Shiva’s energy right now.’ So this was my first initiation into this world, the day I chanted Om Namah Shivaya, and attended this ceremony, also in honour of Shiva.

You also went to India and studied Vedic philosophy and to deepen your knowledge on Mantras, how was that experience for you?

I spent quite some time in India. While in Varanasi, I spent time studying and diving myself deep into the Indian culture, history, and philosophy, which became very dear to me. I had a lot of beautiful experiences with different mystics and Sadhus there.

I attended many ceremonies and rituals, and made some beautiful friendships. Everywhere I went, I felt I was accepted by the Sadhus, and invited to be a part of their activities.

One day that remains really special to me, is a day I went to the other side of the river Ganga, where there is just sand, no city, which is the place some Sadhus go to do ceremonies, meditations and spiritual practices as it is very connected to Shiva. I met a group of them there who recognized my spiritual energy without knowing me, and I was so touched by their reception – they saw me as one of them. 

For the whole day they explained to me their practices as healers, shared their knowledge and insights, and introduced me to their guru.  In the end, it was just myself, the group of Sadhus and their Guru, a young man my age (I was 28 at the time), and he asked me to sing Mantras for them. At first I was so nervous, as this guru also happened to be an expert in Mantras. They all took a meditative position and closed their eyes waiting for me to sing! I was so emotional and nervous, and I began to sing in a traditional way, and then something opened inside me and I just let it flow. I let the Mantras come out spontaneously, I wanted to sing as I do. I connected with something very deep right then.

In the end they gave me their blessings, which was a huge deal – they were all strong, powerful men, and they hugged me and told me I had the Divine Mother in me! This kind of thing happened regularly while I was in India, and really put me on the path to share Mantras with the world.

You can hear the Mantra I sang to them in this video:

I am imagining you there, in your 20s, a European young woman in the midst of Sadhus, healers, mystics in India, as peers and equals, what a journey! Was it then it became your mission to transmit this wisdom to make it relatable to the Western world, and did you feel a responsibility to keep it pure, or original? 

Yes,  I have always been encouraged by the spiritual masters whom I practised with to pronounce the mantras correctly, which was easy in a way because the right pronunciation comes naturally and intuitively to me. For the musical style itself I was always told I can be more creative and choose, which you can see in my songs. Because I toured with different serious spiritual teachers from various traditions, and they all confirmed the same thing to me, so I keep many traditional melodies but also create more contemporary sounds. 

Many of the traditional melodies were passed down orally from generation to generation, and they stay very similar even when I sing them, but the instruments, the flow of the song, can change, as you see with many different other Mantra singers. 

Looking at the way you transmit Mantras right now, and with the wide public reach that you have, do you feel it is your mission to transmit this beautiful tradition to westerners, bringing the two worlds together in a way that is beneficial?

Yes definitely. My mother always told me I was a good communicator and speaker, and that I should become a politician 🙂 I love to talk about subjects I am passionate about, and to take ancient knowledge like Mantra and Vedas and transmit them here, I could talk about it all day. It comes easy to me to translate and to simplify a topic to explain to others.

So I think in a way  I was structured for this to make mantras easy, but remaining respectful of the deeper meaning and knowledge that is behind them. There is also a joyful way to get in touch with that, so I want to stay with this strategy, we could call it a spiritual strategy, to help people to get in touch with this.  

When you came back to Italy and first started your career after all these spiritual experiences in India and after University, how did you first start performing Mantras and get into this world?

The first time I sang Mantras in public in Italy was when a well known classical pianist asked me to do vocals with him for a concert deep in a mountain cave ( he is known for his peculiar choices in venues).  He was living there in this large cavern with a grand piano and wanted me to perform with him, with just spontaneous vocals, spiritual  sounds, etc, not mantras specifically.  A friend of mine who is an Italian dancer I had met in Java was also there, so that made it even more special. During the performance every cell of my body was asking me to sing mantras, so they spontaneously began to emerge.  And from that moment I knew I had to sing Mantras in my life. 

It was in this concert that I met a spiritual teacher who was in the audience and approached me afterwards, and asked me if I wanted to perform and give a workshop on  Mantras in a holistic centre he was leading and I accepted. This was the first of many workshops, performances, and spiritual events that I have been a part of. It was amazing, like all the dots connected.

Your workshops include talks, performances, how do they look like now, what do you enjoy the most?

I have many ways of doing it. I give Mantra concerts, which are very immersive, deep experiences for people. They touch on something deep within themselves receiving the music and sounds. Some attendees have told me that my face changes, like I become another person while I sing. Someone even once told me I looked like a man while I was singing, like a Mongolian monk! It is like I am channeling someone else.

I also hold talks where I put a lot of emphasis in encouraging  people to understand the history and full panorama of the world of Mantras, where they came from, and how meaningful they are to Indian culture. 

What is Indian culture, why does so much spirituality come from there?  It is so important to me to talk about the historical roots of Indian philosophy as so much of it has been destroyed by religious conflict and colonialism, and then of course also distorted by the West. India has been attacked over and over in history, and not only has knowledge been lost, but also manipulated to its people. 

So this is one of the reasons why we see such a variety of ways of looking at spirituality in India. We see Indians that are vegetarian and non-vegetarian, or we see Indians that are Christians, we see Indians that are Hindus but have a Christian approach to Hinduism. It’s all very mixed up. And so this Brahman Vedic tradition, the tradition of the masters, the traditions of pure yoga, is really a treasure and if you have good fortune and karma, you might get in touch with them. But of course it’s something that it’s not easy to find anymore and it’s easy to get confused. 

So I try to help people understand the strength of this tradition, this civilization and culture, which I hold very dear to me.

Do you find it is important for people to understand the exact meaning of the Mantras, or will they still receive the benefits just by listening to, or repeating the sounds?

The meaning is important, but the effect is the real miracle. And at the end, at the very end, the most important is that with the repetition of these sounds, our consciousness, our brain, our ecosystem, our subtle body and our whole being receives the effects of the Mantras. They  can create an effect that changes and improves our life and helps us to be more determined, lucid, positive and connected with some invisible energy that gives us nourishment, gives us food, in a non-material way.  For it is truly a spiritual food, spiritual nectar.  

Is there one mantra who you feel you always go back to if you’re going to sing to beginners? Or do you have a favourite Mantra?

It’s not easy to say because I love many Mantras! But of course Om Namah Shivaya is a big one for me because it opened my initiation, so I love to sing that. When I am starting to get closer to people for the first time, also Maha Mantra Hare Krishna, because it’s a mantra that helps our inner masculine and feminine energy to balance with each other.

Thank you for all these beautiful insights, Thea,  and sharing some of your story for us. Your message is clear, pure, and positive. Is there any one tip in using mantras that you would recommend to our readers, a way to use it in practice that can benefit them in daily life?

If you have at least fifteen minutes and want to repeat Sanskrit Mantras or other positive affirmations, I recommend:

a) Find a comfortable position that can be maintained for at least 10 minutes. It is essential to maintain absolute stillness to favor a flowing energetic communication between the conscious and subconscious mind.

b) While breathing, in addition to oxygen, we also absorb Prana, the cosmic energy present throughout the universe at various levels. Prana activates the seven Chakras, the energetic vortices that make up our vital field.

Close your eyes, breathe deeply three times (referring to the first three chakras), and repeat mentally:

ENERGY IN – during inhalation.

PROBLEMS OUT – during exhalation

After these three purification breaths we continue our meditation on Prana with another four deep breaths (with reference to the four upper Chakras), repeating mentally:

ENERGY IN – during inhalation

LOVE OUT – during exhalation

c) After breathing, repeat the Mantra “Om Shanti Om”. This sacred sound vibration is the Mantra of Peace. It creates the emotion of peace in our cells, thoughts and emotions. Each word must be pronounced slowly and a pause shall be made between one word and another. This kind of pronunciation, slow and smooth, allows the reception of the message both by the left and right hemisphere of the brain.

d) In addition to the Mantra recommended here, everyone can create personalized liberating phrases, made to amplify our good qualities and life goals, the important thing is to choose simple and effective words, without ever changing their sequence. Like you would do with a song or a prayer, the phrases must be repeated regularly, so that their essence can be absorbed with serenity and awareness.

The Anatomy of a Morning Ritual

Do you imagine yourself having a yoga, meditation, walking, writing, prayer or self care  practice in the morning, but it remains  a beautiful and serene idea, life seems to work against you in materializing it? You’re not alone.  

When I  do my morning practice it feels like a soothing balm, gives me energy, colours my day, and an overall feeling of satisfaction mostly stays with me…. More than once after a great practice I thought ‘why on earth don’t I do this all the time’!?  For years it’s been an off and on relationship with my mornings (I love to meander about), but now I think I’m closer to nailing it down. It’s a tough habit to form though, but once you got it, it flows naturally and easily, I promise.

Why a practice in the early hours? Mornings are energetically pure, our ego, analytical thinking mind, digestion, are peaceful, rested, and we are more open to more subtle, intimate and quiet energies. It’s the perfect time to be with yourself, spend a little time in your inner world before you engage with the outer.

Let’s call it for what it is,  a RITUAL rather than a habit or routine. It gives it a more precious significance, because that is what it is, precious time dedicated to just you, your practice. This is called a Saddhana in Sanskrit, meaning a daily spiritual practice.

So how do we give this gift of a Ritual to ourselves? Each of us live differently, some of you have children tickling your feet pre-dawn, some of you might have to be at work very early, or have a night shift, so let’s stay a bit flexible in our endeavours.

Firstly, I can’t believe I  almost finished writing this without possibly the most important point, so I will add it here on top. YOUR PHONE! Keep it off, airplane mode, no wifi, data, when you wake up, until the end of your ritual. This may be a bit anxiety inducing at first, but trust me, it’s so worth it. The phone is so sneaky, it can distract you before you even begin. Just… there’s no way around this.

  1. LAY CLAIM to the chosen moment of your practice.  Tell the people you live with that this is your time. It just takes a little change of mindset. You go to work no matter what, right? Get the kids ready?  It’s easy to put everything aside to show up for your duties and to check the boxes for everyone else.  Reassign the same type of priority to your morning practice, piggybacking your dedication from something you already feel you must do . CLAIM the moment as something you absolutely do, no matter what. It might sound like an extreme measure, and it just might be for starting out….
  1. Remember, your practice also benefits others, as when you take time to navigate your mind, body and emotions, you become more patient, kind, and loving to others. So it is NOT selfish to do your Saddhana.
  1. Let go of how long you think your practice should be, but try to assign yourself a minimum amount of time. Can be 10, 20 or 30 minutes, whatever suits you.
  1. So what do we do? I would say choose 3 things for your ritual to start with. For example: Drink a warm beverage in silence. Do 10 minutes of movement and stretching. 10 minutes of seated meditation. It could be 3 totally different things, repeating a mantra, writing,  burning a candle, whatever you choose. It could be 5 things. Or 1 thing.
  1.  If you are not sure what stretches to do, what the meditation could look like, don’t give up! Choosing a framework like this will motivate you to search for a teaching that works for you.  You’ll find yourself  taking notes in the next class you go to, to watch a video to prepare yourself. Let it be your creative project to sculpt your practice. 

Lastly, I want to share with you a tool I use from the Bullet Journaling method, the habit tracker. This has completely changed my relationship to self discipline, gives me oversight, and is also quite fun. If you love grids, lists and colours, it may be a good idea for you. Here is an example, you can also colour in the grid instead of check marks:

This is a habit tracker just for a daily practice, but you could add any other habit you want to keep track of too. For more info about this you can look up the Bullet Journaling method by Ryder Carrol. My habit tracker has around 7 things on it, so you can get really creative.

Let your morning routine be like a homecoming,  a place of belonging. Something you get excited about when you close your eyes before going to sleep. It’s an intimate offering, a part of you, like a friend that is always by your side. Those kinds of friendships that  remain strong even if you are out of touch for  a while, when you come back, they are there again  with open arms, no strings attached.

And don’t hesitate to call it Evening, Lunch, Night practice if you like, it applies to all! We stay flexible, us yogis, no pun intended. If you have a morning routine you would like to inspire us with, or have any questions, feel free to write in the comments!

6 Ways to Cultivate a Summer Practice

Summer is here, and there is so much to celebrate. Travel season is finally open, the weather is amazing and I feel light, energetic and hopeful. People around me are smiling, I live in the South of France and the combination of rivers, mountains, beach (and the aperitivo) is simply intoxicating. All of life’s regular challenges seem easy to tackle, even work, as I actually I get the busiest during summer.

BUT, there is also a nagging thought “why don’t I feel like this all the time”?  I have to admit I get a little anxious about how short the summer is and that it might be over soon. I tell myself, well, let’s just be in the moment, and put away whatever is coming next. Just enjoy it. 

Its not a seasonal thing! 

Here’s the thing: I spent 12 years of my life living in a year around summer climate, and trust me, ‘The Blues’ can come anywhere, any time, and they are not seasonal! Our inner sense of satisfaction, our ability to be mindful and grounded in the present is something we can cultivate to be lasting year around. Actually, THIS is our practice. 

Our inner sense of satisfaction, our ability to be mindful and grounded in the present is something we can cultivate to be lasting year around. Actually, THIS is our practice. 

This time of year  is so rich and filled with beauty, its easy to feel connected to the earth, to nature, family and community. Summer time is a  great opportunity to deepen our practice, and at the same time can be distracting and we can completely fall out of it because we are in ‘vacation mode’. 

Ideas on how to bring your mindfulness, meditation, and yoga practice to life during summer: 

  1. Plan your practice. As you plan your summer, make an intention about your practice too. Schedule it in, allow it to be a priority.  If you are going on vacation, bring your meditation cushion and your mat. Inform the people you spend time with about it, and that you would like to be free of distraction during that time.  
  1. Honour the sunrise. If you have the chance, try waking up early and practice with the sunrise. There is something auspicious and peaceful about this time, and it IS easier to wake up early in the summer, so why not make the most of it.
  1. Write about it. My grandmother once told me that if you want to remember beautiful moments and make them a part of you forever, write them down. Even with photos, the moment could slip by.  When we bring writing into our daily lives, we might also see the world differently, notice more details about the beauty and wonders of our experiences.
  1. Connect to your creativity. Bring out the old pencils, colours, knitting, half written poetry, dusty instruments. Take it with you on vacation and spend some ME time with your creative outlet. There’s nothing like being in the flow of creation in the present moment, and you might even end the summer with a beautiful finished project.
  1. Listen to your body. If it is rest that you need, then take the rest. Let yourself connect to your natural rhythm, your own pace this summer. It’s ok to opt out, be ‘unproductive’, and just lounge about. I love getting sweaty and doing all the activities when I have time off and that’s all good. But it can be exhausting. It’s all about balance and what YOU need.
  1. Take some silent time. There’s a lot of social stuff going on, and we love it. Give yourself some silent time, even just an hour here and there. It’s a gift. Maybe you have some time off work, you can put the phone away for a few hours a day, or longer! 

In time with regular practice, whatever it is that your chosen lineage, school or teacher is, it will become a part of you and trickle into your daily life, no matter where you are or what you are doing. That’s the beauty of it, it just takes a little attention and dedication for a while, and then it becomes naturally inviting. Summer is a great time to start!

About Silvia

Silvia is a Yoga teacher, physiology enthusiast, and spiritual seeker. She is passionate about making the yoga practice accessible and functional for everyone and helping others find their personal expression with joyful movement.  Read full bio