Wednesday, 10 July 2019

9 Day Meditation Course in India January 2020

Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, Southern India
5 - 14 January 2020

Following three previous successful courses, the next 9 day Power of Awareness Meditation Course is being organised in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, in southern India, in January 2020

Why Tiruvannamalai?

It's the ideal place for meditation

Tiruvannamalai is in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu roughly midway between Chennai and Bengaluru (Bangalore). It is home to three well-known powerful spiritual institutions:

Arunachala, the Holy Hill of southern India. It is impossible to put into words the power that some places have, or why that should be. It is better to let the mind be still and simply let experience demonstrate. 

Arunachala was the presence and power that gave rise to the Annamalaiyar Temple. At the foot of the mountain, it is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is one of the largest temples of its kind in India. 

The temple was also the first stopping place after arriving in Tiruvannamalai for Sri Ramana Maharshi, then a 16 year old boy who had come to a state of total realisation, enlightenment, through the experience of a short but very intense and final self inquiry. 

The state he arrived at was complete and never altered for the rest of his life. He was, and remains, revered throughout his life for his spiritual perfection. He lived on or at the foot of the Hill and never left, giving spiritual guidance, often in silence, to the thousands who came to see him. It is that silence which is the palpable inspiration and uplift to everyone who visits here today.

Spiritual seekers from all over the world find their way to Tiruvannamalai, sometimes by mysterious means. It is best summed up in this quote lifted from Wikipedia:

Arunachala is a secret place, kshetra. It is this place that bestows self-knowledge, jnana. And because most people have so many other desires and do not truly want that knowledge, Arunachala has always remained comparatively little known. But to those few who seek jnana, Arunachala always makes itself known through some means or other.

Dedicated practitioners of meditation that stay for some time come to realise the secret of the place, that there is an invisible force quietly guiding the sincere seeker back to their true home. In this way it is the ideal place for meditation.

The constant in all meditation practice

The course itself is based on the principle central to meditation practice: the discovery and expansion of Awareness - it’s the constant in all meditation practice - to realise the power invested in awareness, as a medium to discover and know yourself more fully, more deeply, more directly and more accurately. 

Previous meditation experience helps but it is not essential. If the  inner desire and inspiration are there for real self knowledge beyond appearances, to face up to one’s limitations to get to the truth, that is all you really need. You can read further in the blog about this to see where this is coming from. 

With some guidance and the silent support of the environment this can lead to an enriching, enlightening, even life-changing experience.

Practical details - how it works:
What follows here covers general information. More detailed information and advice will be sent out to anyone who writes in expressing their interest in the course

Dates and Times

The dates of the 9 day course are 5 - 14 January 2019. The celebration of Pongal follows immediately after on 15 January

The hours of the course will be from 9 am - 3.30 pm daily. This time each day will include three meditation sessions, a short chanting session of simple mantras, a deep relaxation session (yoga nidra), and of course lunch and tea. This schedule allows for attendance at the Ramana Ashram morning and evening chanting and puja programs. In this way there is opportunity for a full day of sadhana from early morning until night-time if you so wish.


The fee for the cost of venue hire, lunch and tea for the full 9 days is US $100. This will need to be paid in full at the start of the course to Linda Fancy, the manager of the venue and course coordinator. It can be paid in any of the major currencies according to the rate of exchange on that day.

No deposit is required. However, your cooperation is requested to ensure accuracy of attendance. The first stage would be to express interest in the course by writing for further information. This constitutes an inquiry not a commitment.
If your interest develops further into a decision, then you would contact Linda a second time to confirm your commitment to attend and assure your place on the course.

Please note there is no fee for the tuition of the course itself. In keeping with the principle of dakshina - an exchange of material support for spiritual values - what you consider an appropriate donation can be made at the end of the course.

About travel and accomodation

Those wishing to attend will need to arrange their own travel arrangements, and choice and booking of residence. This may sound daunting at first but with some guidelines, which will be sent out in due course, it’s something you quickly get used to. It’s really part of the 'travel experience' and integrates well into the rhythm of the life and the course itself. 

Some general guidelines - like travel to Tiruvannamalai from Chennai, and information on some choices of accomodation - will be sent out to anyone who writes in.

The venue is in the country about 7 kilometres out of town. Rickshaw travel to and from the course venue each day will be set up from the first day. During previous courses everyone quickly found their own preference, like continuing with the rickshaw or hiring a bicycle or moped for the 7 k ride.

Conditions for a successful course

Continuity is an essential part of the 9 day experience. So there should be an understanding that it is essential to start the course from the beginning - please note that late arrivals will unfortunately not be able to join. And attendance needs to be continuous for the duration of the course. So, with allowances for sickness, non-attendance during the course will forfeit further attendance thereafter.

I would highly recommend getting to Tiruvannamalai itself some time before the course is scheduled to begin, to acclimatise and tune in; the more time you can manage the better.

Thoughts on the climate 

The climate is agreeable, generally warm, sometimes a bit hot, but have something warm for cooler moments at night. Through the same January season, I have been here many times with two lower covers, two upper covers, a warm top, and a cover on top at night, and that’s about it. But you know, climate change…


So, if you are inspired and interested, please write to this email address 

Please note that the course is provisional until the response to it has been assessed and your place is confirmed. So not to make travel arrangements final until you receive a reply.

Once finalised, as mentioned already, more information - like, accomodation suggestions, travel directions, etc - will be sent out. 

Previous courses have been very well received and whenever I mention the Tiruvannamalai course there is always a show of interest, with some seeming ready to commit straightaway, so let us know if you’re into it. And if you need more info, that email address again:



Thursday, 4 July 2019

We want to know, but hesitate to know at the same time

There is a spirit of adventure in self discovery
Adventure is when you don't know what will happen next

I’ve been teaching 5 - 9 day meditation courses, held mainly in silence, for nearly 10 years now. They aim to define a time, create the right environment, and give guidance for the best opportunity to go deeper into the inner world and go further on the path of discovery and self knowledge. 
It takes something to take a slice out of your life to spend some time away from everything with the sole purpose of becoming more exposed to yourself and discover… who knows what? Anyone who attends one of these courses usually has a clear intention and is aware they are taking a definitive step in that direction. However, every time, it comes up somewhere in the course that, though I want to know, I do, I hesitate to know, and I do, at the same time.

Or to put it more directly, you discover something in yourself that is clearly inaccurate, built on false premises, and proven in some personal way to be so, but when push come to shove, still we hesitate to make the change. Why is that?

To change or not to change?

It is very difficult to change something in the mind that has been established there for a long time even though, whether it was originally accurate or not, it might well have passed its use-by date. Times, events and people change, but these well established states of mind do not change easily even when the evidence is against them and in spite of the sincerity of our desire to do so. This is a fact, often intuitively understood, but easily overlooked, and it is wiser and in the end easier and much less complicated to accept it as quickly and as fully as possible.

Prefer the familiar

It is just so much easier to slip into autopilot and let things go on in the same old way. There’s no actual harm in that, is there? Everybody does it. And no-one condemns you for being the same today as yesterday. In fact people are more comfortable with that. We like people to be sound, reliable… meaning, like me, and like you’ve always been. And if we change those we know well will have to accept that too, or not. But everyone has the right to change don’t they, and if the time is right there’s nothing to stop you from moving on is there?


Change is definitely the harder task, requiring more effort in every way. It’s not just that it’s easier to stay this way, than to go that way, it’s actually a whole nest of problems with knock-on effects all down the line to effect substantial change. Many of history’s worst decisions have been made as a continuation of plans already made that are just too much trouble to change even in the face of new evidence and changing circumstances - like walking into disaster.  Much of the First World War, for instance, if you’re interested

Fear of the unknown

Then, what are we going to come across when we do go inside and look deeper? We really don’t know - or do we? There is always some intuitive insight at work somewhere that knows what we will have to face, what we know is in us. It’s the still, small voice inside, and amongst the clamour of other things, it’s got to be a particular decision whether to listen to it and act on it or not. It’s that fear of the unknown, or the partially suspected that gives pause, and causes the hesitation. 

So much already invested

Built on supposition though it may be, I have invested so much in what I have come to believe in myself as real and permanent. Is it real, isn’t it real - or forget about it? Because maybe my view of myself, and then my career, my relationships, my deeply felt beliefs, hopes and dreams, in the end may turn out to be unsupported and unreliable after all. It’d be like selling out, even if the investment is no longer bringing in the expected returns. But that would be a heaviness that eventually gives way to lightness.

Proud of my ignorance

Of course this doesn’t apply to you or me, but boy is there a lot of it about. Well if I’m not gonna change, might as well make a virtue out of it - the right to be honoured not for the quality or accuracy of belief, but for the tenacity with which I hold it and hold onto it, even if it is a fantasy. Some people will do anything for a little attention, but present a different face to the world, and you end up believing it.

No fun in it

There’s no doubt that if there is a deeper insight into the inaccuracies of life then a realignment of viewpoint is sure to follow. And it may seem as if there is going to be less fun to be had out there, even as it also becomes clear that the ‘fun’ from before was unreliable as a lasting proposition for happiness. I knew someone once who said that he wished he hadn’t learnt what he had through his own spiritual aspiration, because life was easier and less complicated and more fun before. There is a lot of fun in truth, but it’s a different kind of fun than fantasy, more like an adventure

No guarantee of the outcome

Even if the path of self knowledge is pursued sincerely and diligently for some time where’s the guarantee of a worthwhile outcome? Those who have gone before assure us that there is, but who believes such things these days? Caught in the middle of the journey when the highway has turned from three lanes at the beginning into a steep and rocky road with hidden obstacles there is a temptation to turn back for a better road, regardless of the destination. But can’t have arrival without the travel.

There is eternal beauty in accuracy

It is testing and trying, but there is one thing that is overlooked, the quality that keeps the eye on the road and the destination in mind: faith. Faith is naivety isn’t it? Who believes in anything you can’t test and satisfy in your mind first? Well, that’s a catch 22: if we observe it accurately it’s that same mind that proves itself unequal in this particular matter - good in the material world, but in the inner life, accurately knowing one’s true nature, that’s outside its jurisdiction. Missing that catch will lead to a lot of problems.

There’s much more to this than meets the eye. There are people, places, philosophies and practices that can awaken faith and keep it alive. But you have to begin to question long held beliefs and get away from the ongoing influences for some time to get access to this. But when internalised, tested though it may be from time time, it is the most valuable thing we can call our own, because in the end it proves itself to be very much our own.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Not Actually Meditation, Actually

Or Meditating with a really stubborn mind

Although I’ve been practising meditation for about forty years now, I’ve not actually been practising meditation in the way it’s usually understood. Let me explain. 

Meditation: have mantra, take mala (a string of 108 beads), sit comfortably, close the eyes, breath normally, or rhythmically. Repeat mantra mentally, in sync with breath, or not, as you wish. With each repetition of the mantra turn the mala one bead. Practice one mala (about 12 minutes) two malas, four malas, whatever. 

I tried that once, for a while, but it didn’t work. Why? Lack of focus, impatience, wandering mind - what most people experience after the first taste of euphoria and enthusiasm has worn off. But looking back there was another reason which is why I’m writing this now. 

More than this

Ever since I can remember, looking around I had always thought, there must be more than this; this can’t be it, and occasionally, this can’t be real. I was blessed with a rich inner life and cursed with an out of control imagination. What it amounted to was that I came to value the inner life above all else, because it seemed that’s where I wanted to be it, where it was really at, but had little control over it.

Everything around me seemed so normal, in the pejorative sense. Fortunately I was born at time when that normality was about to be turned upside down. It would be no surprise to discover that when marijuana came around I took to it enthusiastically. It offered a way to deepen the inner connection. In the course of time though I discovered that, while it might help open the door, and occasionally kick it in, the experience itself was also a kind of distraction. Once inside it’s better to look out for yourself unaltered so to speak.

Coincidentally, when leaving the marijuana habit I was initiated into meditation with a mantra. At first that was like having the door kicked in too, where you could also float around on cosmic clouds. But what I really wanted to know was what could you do for yourself when you got in there, where does it lead to, where does it all end? Because cosmic clouds are all well and good but it’s just fluff, another form of distraction really.

From there things moved on a bit. I knew I had access to the inner world, valued it and tried to look after it, in what seemed like a maddeningly insecure unhelpful world - there, all the values and priorities seemed to be out of alignment, which sort of seemed like it could be so easy to fix if only we’d… So I had to get away from all that. 

Inner world preeminent

So now the story relates, if I can talk about it, to the inner world. Starting point: an erratically sensitive but very independent mind - I have to find this out for myself. What is ‘this’? Some kind of truth that never finds itself compromised by contradiction. Where is truth? The real truth, it’s only inside. So that’s where you have to make the effort. 

Over the course of time it became clear to me that the source of all the contradictions are in the mind itself, no matter how much we might struggle with that. Real life is within, but it goes deeper than just the mind. How to come to that? By stubbornly trying every possible avenue that I came across trying to bend truth to my will. And I was calling that meditation. 

So what was happening? Long story made short. Access to inner world was usually not difficult. Mantra helped, at first, but with some experience I found I could get in there pretty easily - just close your eyes and wait for something to happen, because there is always something happening. And here’s the interesting part, mantra is usually understood as a support, something to return to to know where you’re at. But when inside, the mantra seemed to be a distraction and I just wanted to go on on my own. 

Being there

The long hard road, where all the mistakes are made, is getting to a vantage point of being able to watch the mind from some place that is itself not influenced by the mind. We call that awareness. Is that a part of the mind? At first it seems yes - where all the mistakes are made. But by way of making and then hopefully eliminating all those mistakes one day the way eventually becomes clear to see the mind like from the outside, and then you can just let it be. 

If that can be done even if only briefly, temporarily, then the perspective on all those things that are observed there changes, sometimes quite radically. Which is the long path to self knowledge - long because there is so much we don’t know about ourselves, and it takes long time and continuous application. 

Now here’s the thing. If the mind is accepted as being inconsistent. And if the awareness can be trusted as something special, separate from the mind, then you can enquire more deeply into those inconsistencies. It can be done through choice, or recognising inconsistencies as they arise, in meditation, or in daily interactions. It can be done formally or casually. It can be done anywhere, anytime. It can be done as often as the inconsistencies keep on coming.

So you could say that the practice of meditation is like a training ground to know how to make the inner connection and to allow the relationship to flourish unhindered, to be a good observer of oneself. Because then the same can be applied, perhaps with a little difficulty at first, in daily life and interactions.

Condition of wisdom

The more still and confident the sense of being an observer becomes the deeper the inner knowledge can go. But it’s not a gradual progression. Sometimes it all seems to be working according to plan, and then all hopes and expectations fly out the window. Because we have all our own untruths, half-truths, misconceptions and misdemeanours to meet with, acknowledge and address before we get a good look in to our inner wisdom. 

And wisdom most assuredly is there, but access to it is conditional upon harmony in every sphere of experience, now known and not yet known, before that access is vouchsafed. This is so important for patience and persistence, because you can’t arrive without making the journey. 

So meditation is not necessarily a matter of trying to stay at one point- if you can do it, then do it - then losing it and trying repeatedly to return to it, but better to let the mind go free and follow its behaviour very closely, but without interference or prejudice. Then one fine day the focus will come, spontaneously, effortlessly, and then there is a chance for those things beyond the mind’s jurisdiction to begin to manifest. That’s how awareness works in meditation. 

What helps

So one interesting question: what is the constant? What puts up with all the bullshit, the intensity, the multiple sensations of realising how wrong you can be, and goes on being, it never seems to end…? 

It’s simple: the desire above all else to know what is that truth, where to search for it, and how to go about it. If you have that you can’t help yourself. And for some, even if it puts you in a very small minority, that goal is the only thing worth working for, no matter what you have to do, what you have to put up with, or how long it takes. It’s like a friendship for life.