We need a place like Amirat

´Now, the teachings of yoga

Yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness

the true awareness abides in its very nature´

Driving away from sunny and glamorous Nice to Amirat was both beautiful and terrifying. High cliffs surrounding us, tight curves and narrow roads hardly big enough for two cars from opposite ways – quite a challenge for first time driving after more than a year. Deeper into the forests, higher up and farther away from the buzzing and glamorous Riviera was Amirat , commune de Grasse, the next stop of our French holiday.

 

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This small community of 6 to 7 houses spread across a beautiful valley mesmerised us as soon as we stepped out of the car. We had arrived in a little piece of heaven, a fairy tale like experience.

Welcomed by our hosts’ adorable cat Bagouin, we stepped down the stone steps and suddenly were surrounded by tens of butterflies, big fat beautiful butterflies flying in the fruit trees around the house. Sunset was slowly falling over the village and all you could here was… silence.

 

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That first evening I got to know Charlie and Zia and we spent some long hours talking and learning more about the solitary life they had chosen a few years before. On how they grow their food, on how they exchange yoga classes for products they need, on how Amazon packages reach their house faster than an ambulance (unless it´s a helicopter), on how the wild boars come to the tip of the hill in search for food and on how content they are with the serenity of such seclusion.

Their house is a truly Zen crib, beautifully and yet simply decorated. To me it was like the house of my dreams, every detail perfectly in place, vintage finds combined with the comfort of modern equipment.Our bedrooms had a vintage Eero Saarinen Tulip armchair restored to its original color combined with rustic style furniture, kilim carpets and small bohemian decorations to spirit up the space.

 

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Going to bed later that night, we felt in a surreal film with darkness and silence covering us to the point of scary. No shadows, no sounds – just silence. How different from the constant buzz of our city life! Even at night our bedroom is lit up by the lamp posts on the street and I always have to close the windows no matter how hot it gets because the mopeds, cars, people´s noise can be really annoying when you´re trying to get proper sleep.

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During those days we relaxed. Woke up and had breakfast in the garden, watching the hundreds of butterflies and bumble bees feast on the lavender bushes in front of us. We played with the cats, with their son and tried to get a glimpse of the wild boars that came at night.

One afternoon we spent in Gars, a nearby village with probably 20 houses crammed on top of a hill. That hot August afternoon the few streets were empty and our only companions were a cute friendly cat and the horses too preoccupied with feasting on the freshly cut grass.

 

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Another day Charlie left us for a few hours in Entreveux – a beautiful medieval town with old citadel and towers where it´s like having stepped 500 years back in time. That´s where I discovered my two favourite things in France – mint syrup with Perrier sparkling water and their amazing ice cream.

 

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Each day had a chill pace, nowhere to hurry, nowhere to be and all we had to do was have relax and explore the surroundings.

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My mind was not relaxing though. As I was trying to be in the moment and truly live the nature wonders around me, my mind was busy thinking about pretty much anything else: my job, the people I didn´t get to speak to with before leaving the office; if I double locked the apartment, if the flowers on the balcony would survive for two weeks; I got thought on my purpose in life, my eating habits, my dreams, my lack of sport, the rented car and so, so much other rubbish. And believe me, those were not nice thoughts. It was as though a sewage had chosen its worst time to overflow and ruin my perfect holiday that I had dreamt for months.

I realised the truth many days after I was already back in Barcelona. It wasn´t that my ´monkey mind´ had chosen a bad timing, it was just that after a long time it was quiet enough outside to notice the noise inside. Those rubbish thoughts, that desire to escape and control and push and reject had not emerged from being away from home or work. Hell no, it had been there all along, whispering every day, every moment until not myself, but the environment had brought it to surface and exposed it for what it was.

 

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Stephen Cope, quoting Patanjali´s Yoga Sutra says that yogis call this reaction – the War on Reality. The mind cannot bear to be in the present moment and accept what is. The constant flow of thoughts reach to memories of the past and go into fantasies about the future, create alternative scenarios all with the purpose of refusing what IS. The mind is all about DOING, that´s why the crazy rhythm of work and life I´ve been having in the past few months have managed to keep my own ´war on reality´ so well hidden.

The mind thrives in tasks to start and never finish, drags oneself to the next moment, the next thing to purchase, the next holiday, the next weekend and so on. And because we love to DO, to feel productive, to demonstrate… we cannot see it until it´s already made some damage, until we´ve already started to question our happiness, ourselves, until we´ve already started reacting out of insecurity and rejection.

 

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So why do we need places like Amirat? Do we really need to  go for a retreat in the mountains? Do we have to just run away from civilisation and the city and life as we have it in search for peace and quiet? Actually I believe that we need is silence. It´s about finding space and time for oneself when we become over agitated, frantic and worn-down.

Holidays can do this beautifully but the truth is that we can find this peace any day with just a few moments. Call it meditation, call it mindfulness, call it a simple walk in the park and walking barefoot in the grass. Call it putting the phone on air plane mode and lying on the sofa. Call it looking at a leaf instead of instagramming it.

It´s those minutes when we sit down and choose to see the stream of thoughts coming and going and go back to awareness whenever we are caught in it. It´s the first step to gratitude.

 

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And as it becomes a habit the awareness stays for longer and not just in lotus pose, but wherever we are and in everything we do. The illusions of why we do what we do, of the projections we have on our partner or families, the hidden insecurities that make us respond emotionally and physically- they all become clear. And then they start to crumble.

´To still the pattern of consciousness´ is the philosophy behind yoga. The goal is watch the mind and bring it back in front of a lavender field where butterflies and bumble bees hum and dance in the show of life.

 

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