How to contemplate nature; a simple nature-centric mindfulness practice

Nature-centred mindfulness is a great way to start meditation practice for a beginner, and also a beautiful practice for more experienced mindfulness and meditation practitioners. This extract is taken from the upcoming book, Nordic by nature. New voices on deep ecology; Arne Naess in the 21st century. If you would like to receive a free copy of this book please sign up to the Foundation of Contemplation of Nature’s newsletter here and follow the foundation on Facebook and @foundnature on Instagram.

Preparing lemons!

The contemplation of nature for inner and outer resilience
Hi, my name is Ajay Rastogi and I live in the village of Majkhali, in the state of Uttarakhand in the Indian Himalayan region. It’s about 400 kilometres north of Delhi and we overlook the high Himalayas with many 6000-metre high peaks. I have been an ecologist and an environmentalist for a large part of my life. I used to work with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as the organic programme coordinator for India. The basic drive to move back was to find a tool for the transformation of people from inside, so that they can connect deeply with nature.

The fact that we are unable to make big changes in society that are needed for sustainability means that we need to look again at the approach environmental movements have taken so far. For that reason, I was thinking that meditative practice, which can be done in nature, could be transformative in making us understand that we are an integral part of the natural world. Meditation is considered as a method for inner transformation.

Ajay near the foundation’s headquarters, in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Experiential transformative learning
We have a residential programme based out of village homestays. These are typical rural homesteads, structures where there is no running water and the toilet is outside. Participants are supposed to stay for a two-week programme and help their host agrarian families, doing the same work that they do. They learn about everyday work: taking care of the cow, getting fodder from the forest, getting enough drinking water from the springs.

Students on the Mountain Resilience Leadership course learn how a mixture of cattle dung and water produces biogas for cooking stoves.

The programme is based on three pillars. One is called ‘the dignity of physical work’ because, unfortunately, we are losing the connection to working with our hands. The second is ‘interdependence’ because sometimes we feel that if we are economically sound then we don’t need anybody else – ‘I just spend money and get whatever I want’– but that’s not how society is structured, that’s not how sustainability comes about. The third thing participants learn about is ‘interconnectedness’, which is more about the landscape and the elements, where the water is coming from and so on. It is about knowing that this does not happen by itself, there are trees and filtration is taking place, there is some soil which can absorb water. It’s not as if it comes out of thin air. It needs to be nurtured.
We have a structured programme now. It’s a three-credit course, with the collaboration of Western Colorado University, called Mountain Resilience Leadership. We have also worked with the National Outdoor Leadership School for the past nine years.

A short nature-centred practice group session before co-creation workshops and meetings can change the whole dynamic and outcome of the work.

Students from all over the world come and participate in these programmes.
Bring nature to our consciousness
The nature-based mindfulness practice that we call the ‘contemplation of nature’
is done in natural surroundings, if possible. It is a multisensory experience. It helps because we are biological organisms and we have an inherent need to connect with nature. It’s kind of how we are genetically wired, so the contemplation of nature is
not as abstract as many people find other meditative practices to be. It is good for beginners to feel the interconnectedness of all beings.
People can start with the contemplation of nature and then go on to learn about other deeper levels of meditation. But the contemplation of nature is definitely an approach that can be done on a daily basis. It quickly brings us to a level of tranquillity that gives us all the benefits of the meditation: the compassion, the kindness, the deeper connection to the natural law as well as to the social community around us.
At about the 23rd minute of meditation, a response known as the relaxation response activates a deeper trigger in our bodies. The relaxation response allows the body and internal chemistry to function in a much more regulated and balanced way. This also brings other benefits, including a gentle detachment from the continuous flow of thoughts and emotions, and deeper awareness and insight into our interconnected being.

Three steps for contemplating nature
So, all we do is sit and observe with a soft gaze. You can contemplate nature
indoors with very simple objects from nature, following the three steps of nature contemplation that we have designed. The three simple steps of the contemplation
of nature are: observe nature with a soft gaze, accept your thoughts, emotions and sensations with gentle detachment, and send love to the world with sympathetic attention.
By observing nature with a soft gaze, we bring nature into our consciousness,
all the time accepting with gentle detachment our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. We are not interested in finding details or drawing conclusions. Of course, our minds will wander here and there, but as soon as we realise this, we gently bring our mind back to simply observing nature with a soft gaze.
One very important element of any meditation practice is to let go of your thoughts. You do not do this by fighting them but just by observing them and acknowledging them without judgement. This is what sympathetic attention means. Be gentle with yourself and just remind yourself of feelings of gratitude and oneness with nature. We sit, we observe softly with a gentle gaze, and continue sitting with gentle detachment. No matter what thoughts come to mind, don’t make any judgment about where you are, or what you are doing or thinking. It is this step that is transcendental in nature, and therefore a fundamental aspect of the practice. Being able to sit quietly allows us to somehow transcend a call of judgment and ‘the thinking mind’, at least for a little while.
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Suman and her handmade masks.

Trusting in a gut feeling.

Suman Bishnoi and her husband Surender Kumar live in Paonta Sahib in Himachal Pradesh. Suman said that even before this pandemic struck, she had decided to try and make some masks to cope with the increasingly bad pollution. But she also had a gut feeling that things were about to get worse, and in that eventuality, that there would a shortage of masks, especially in smaller towns and amongst more rural communities.

So, Suman bought some breathable cotton, and decided to experiment making a few masks for herself and her husband. After all, even if she was wrong about an upcoming pandemic, she thought, there is no harm making masks and testing them out. Even if they are made from simple cotton, and do not filter out everything, surely, they would be some help in stopping the spread of a virus? And some help is better than no help at all.

To mask or not to mask?

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, there has been a lot of conflicting information and opinions on the masks. Perhaps some media channels were hoping to avoid a rush on masks, helping healthcare workers get access to Personal Protection Equipment they need, as they are on the front-line of fighting the virus. Now, the general consensus is that yes, masks do help stop the spread of the virus. Masks are effective at being a barrier against droplets, which is a main transmission route of corona virus, and some studies have estimated a roughly five-fold protection versus no barrier alone.

Medical staff all over the world still urgently need professional and medical masks – there is a huge global shortage of face masks in hospitals and other healthcare institutions. All the more reason to get your sewing machine out and try sewing different types of masks for you and your household. The demand for masks is only going to grow, as the stigma of wearing a mask when you shop disappears. For young and old, masks are increasingly seen as an important part in protecting the most vulnerable and high risk in society by limiting the overall spread of the outbreak.

How to use a mask.

The best fabric to choose is 100% cotton so that you aren’t breathing into the plastic microfibres shed by synthetic fabrics. 100% cotton masks can also be used several times- just make sure to wash them after every use.

Remember, a mask is just added protection and they don’t protect your 100 percent. Masks are effective when used in combination with physical distancing- stay at least 2 metres away from people who are not in your household. Do not forgot to wash your hands frequently with hot soapy water, and also use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer in between washes if you have it. Whatever you do, do not touch your face, especially your eyes and nose.

It is important how you handle your mask. A good tip is to imagine that the virus is invisible glitter. Once you touch it you can transfer it to other surfaces.

Before putting on a mask, make sure that you clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water. Cover your mouth and nose with the mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask. Avoid touching the mask while using it; and if you do, remember to clean your hands again with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.

Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not re-use single-use masks. The best is to carry a few with you if possible and keep the clean ones in a small plastic bag. Keep an empty bag for used masks if you change them when out.

To remove the mask do not touch the front of mask- just remove it from the ear loops; put it immediately in a closed bag or bucket of soapy water; wash your hands immediately with alcohol-based hand sanitizer or soap and water.

The best thing to do is put them in a bucket of soapy water as soon you get back indoors. We now know that soap kills the virus by breaking down the fat that keeps the virus whole. How water is also good- but remember the virus lives in our bodies and our normal body temperature is 37 Celsius. So the best thing to do is to boil the kettle and pour boiling water over the mask and let it soak for at least 5 minutes before washing, and then ironing with a steam iron. You can also wash your masks in the washing machine with your clothes at 60-90°c. but be sure to fill the machine up so it isn’t an unnecessary burden on the environment.

We hope this inspires you to get sewing, just like Suman Bishnoi. There are many good patterns to follow online.

Stay safe!

Thanks to Mrs. Bishnoi!

 

Challenging the aviation industry one woman at a time.

How many percent of pilots are women? 3 percent? 5 percent or 11 percent? You might be surprised to find out that the country with the highest percentage of female pilots is India, with 11 percent, compared the global percentage of 3 percent and 5 percent in the United States.

Sai Deepthi Patro, 15-year-old from Visakhapatnam, India,

“The gender imbalance in aviation is global!” says Noopurr R. Chablani, Secretary of the Indian Chapter of the NGO Women in Aviation International (WAI). She continues: “Girls in India have been encouraged to study STEM subjects (Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics) for quite some time already, so there are a lot of high school girls with high career ambitions.” Bhatia has years of experience in travel, tourism and hospitality and wanted to give young women more career opportunities – not only as pilots or cabin crew, but also as all types of engineers, technicians, designers, strategists, air traffic controllers, operations managers, and flight care specialists, to name but a few professions in the field.

Two WAI India trainees at Girls in Aviation Day celebration celebrated at the Delhi Flying Club, September, 2017.

Bhatia herself is no stranger to CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). She started the Bird Academy in 1988, as an educational arm of the Bird Group. Bird Academy offers diploma and certificate courses in travel and tourism, airfares and ticketing, passenger and baggage handling, air safety and emergency handling, dangerous goods regulations, as well as consultant and foundation courses certified by IATA, a trade association of world airlines. The courses range from about a month to a year in duration and Bird Academy trains roughly 3,000 students every year, guiding them from high school to finding employment across the country.

Radha Bhatia, he driving force behind Women in Aviation International, India.

Bhatia adds: “We also need to involve the girls’ families so the girls all have an advocate at home. There are still a lot of preconceived ideas about what it means for a woman to work at an airport or as an air flight attendant. Also, specialised education is long and it can take years before the girls earning a living.” There is indeed, a lot of work to do. The global aviation industry needs to update its practices to actively promote gender equality. In India, Bhatia and Chablani are challenging the status quo and inspiring others to do the same.

Bhatia adds: “We also need to involve the girls’ families so the girls all have an advocate at home. There are still a lot of preconceived ideas about what it means for a woman to work at an airport or as an air flight attendant. Also, specialised education is long and it can take years before the girls earning a living.” There is indeed, a lot of work to do. The global aviation industry needs to update its practices to actively promote gender equality. In India, Bhatia and Chablani are challenging the status quo and inspiring others to do the same.

NOOPUR R CHABLANI, dedicated to gender equality in aviation.

 

 

Tasting India: Ayurveda & food, for pleasure and health.

The inauguration lunch of the Tasting India Symposium in Delhi, last December 2017, was at Roseate Farm; a venture into small-scale organic farming and the ‘heart project’ of Mrs. Radha Bhatia, Chairperson of the Bird Group that owns the family of Roseate hotels. The farm supplies the Roseate hotels in Delhi with organic produce. Tasting India is a platform and symposium founded by the Cultural Curator, Sanjoo Malhotra and Food Writer, Sourish Bhattacharyya.

Sanjoo and Sourish are on a roll, to say the least. Tasting India has the highest ambitions to create a sustainable food culture in India. It is actively connecting all types of stakeholders working within organic food production; from small-scale farming that builds local community resilience, to food distribution such as independent food brands, farmers markets, coops for local crafts and traditions, to experience promoting regional and cultural diversity, such as education, chefs working with seasonality, eco-tourism and environmental sustainability, and last but not least- NGOs working with human ecology, from gender and identity to food sharing.

A happy day for Roseate Hotel's Chef Nishant Choubey.

A happy day for Roseate Hotel’s Chef Nishant Choubey.

The symposium’s launch meal was a tasting menu and journey into Ayurvedic thought, designed by Chef Nishant Choubey, as representative of the produce from the idyllic farm settings.

Renowned food expert Professor Pushpesh Pant explained: “The concept of the meal is from ‘farm to plate’ – in times gone by everyone in India ate like that. Whatever was grown in the kitchen garden came directly to the dinner table. But right now, it’s only the super-rich who seem to be able to eat completely organically grown, pesticide-free, fresh food, grown from a nearby farm, with all the nutrients that rich, clean soil gives.”

Everyone can still eat like this if they keep two things in mind, the professor says.

“Eat seasonally, and eat regionally. Eat what you get locally in that season, buy your produce and then explore your creativity to see what you can do with what is in season.”

The word Ayurveda is Sanskrit, meaning ‘life-knowledge’. It’s a complete system of how to maintain health and balance in life, the philosophy of health at the heart of Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism, and permeates every aspect of life, not least of all, food.

Simple yet delicious Gobhi Keema Adraki, Cauliflower and minced ginger.

Simple yet delicious Gobhi Keema Adraki, Cauliflower and minced ginger.

Food is at the centre of life. It is pleasure and it is nutrition. It is culture and identity. In the Ayurveda tradition, food functions to build a healthy metabolism, by moderating foods that can be harmful to the mind or body. When you consider the Ayurveda way of food, you will see an overlap with cultures from all over the world. Food is life, food is medicine. A nutritious and balanced diet can limit diseases stemming from internal inflammation.

The Professor concludes: “You do not have to choose between a healthy life and a pleasurable life; it is part of a healthy, balanced life to enjoy food! Life is meant to be enjoyed, and taking pleasure in life is part of finding balance.”

PROFESSOR 2017-12-13 15.24.48

Ayurveda; 1000-year-old Systems Thinking
The Ayurveda approach to food is known as a ‘Sattvic’ diet or ‘yogic’ diet. It is supposed to be a conscious, holistic approach, from producing to consuming, that today we call ‘from farm to table.’ But from farm to table is nothing new- this is the way everyone used to eat and the way some rural communities still support themselves.

The diet itself has an innate awareness of the connectedness to nature and interconnectivity with community upon which we all rely. It places emphasis on nurturing the essential: using seasonal and local foods from your own kitchen garden or village farm. It’s about ethics and knowledge of where the food comes from and where the waste goes.

A Sattvic diet is, therefore, vegetarian, as there is no need to slaughter animals to maintain our health. Cows are an intrinsic part of the organic farm though; the bullocks are used for ploughing, the cows give milk, and both produce natural fertilizer from vegetable scraps. It’s the small-scale organic farming system that fed the whole of India until the 1960’s. It’s a system that could work today, if we value and support the work of our farmers, and create efficient systems and infrastructures that get their produce to market.

The pickles were amazing! To call them mere pickles feels like an injustice.

The Six Tastes of Ayurveda
Most of us who have heard about Ayurveda have heard about the three doshas, or three elements called Vata, Pitta and Kapha. When the doshas are in balance, a person can reach optimal health, while imbalance of the doshas provokes disease. Or as the saying goes: ‘You are what you eat.’ What was new to me were the 6 Rasas, or 6 tastes of Ayurveda, that balance the three elements in our bodies. These are Sweet, Sour, Salty, Pungent, Bitter, and Astringent.

A dish with humble origins; Khichra, a beautifully delicate and 'more-ish' porridge of lentils, rice and quinoa.

A dish with humble origins; Khichra, a beautifully delicate and ‘more-ish’ porridge of lentils, rice and quinoa.

A chef working with Indian cuisine not only needs to know about the flavours of food, that make food pleasurable, but also the medicinal values of those foods and their effect on the body in combination. It’s a fundamental difference between traditional and modern eating habits all over the world. In the past, the person who prepares food is the guardian of our health. Mothers, daughters, sisters, wives.

Chef Nishant Choubey adds: “Today, as we eat out in a variety of places, the responsibility for our health and nutrition has shifted to the individual. More and more, food is designed to be enticing but not nutritional. Food has to be both, or it is empty of meaning.”

Christmas Pudding and Jelabis for dessert!

Links:
Roseate Hotels. http://www.roseatehotels.com/
The Bird Group. http://www.thebirdgroup.com/
Tasting India. http://www.tastingindiasymposium.com/
Incredible India: http://www.incredibleindia-tourism.org/

Mrs. Radha Bhatia, owner and founder of the Roseate Farm and Chairperson of The Bird Group.

The Vedatya Institute. A new source of culinary knowledge for organic India.

On the South of Delhi in Gurgaon is a technical college that has high ambitions to provide a new type of education within service and hospitality. Unlike others, this college has a strong focus on applied knowledge and circular economy within food, from ‘farm to forks and fingers.’

Food cooked and plated by first year students.

Food cooked and plated by first year students.

The Institute, called Vedatya, is still young but has already achieved so much. I arrived there on a sunny December day with Sanjoo Malhotra, co-founder of the platform and network Tasting India. It was towards the end of Tasting India’s 2017 symposium on food, where Sanjoo and his co-founder Sourish Bhattacharya, had collected some of India’s leading influencers and change-makers. The missing piece at the symposium, until that day, had been education; how to create a new integrated learning model for organic food businesses that would teach theory in a practical and experiential way.

Sanjoo Malhotra, co-founder of Tasting India on the grounds of Vedatya, December 2017.

Sanjoo Malhotra, co-founder of Tasting India on the grounds of Vedatya, December 2017.

From star chefs to culinary entrepreneurs.
I didn’t expect to find an organic farm on campus. Sanjay Sharma, Head Chef at Vedatya explains: “For a chef to be able to work effectively and maximize their creativity, they really need to know how food grows; what local ingredients are available, what is the seasonality, how are they grown, and which parts can be used.”

High tech buildings of the Vedatya Institute.

High tech buildings of the Vedatya Institute.

Vedatya currently has 4 acres of farmland, a herb garden, lots of fruit trees; mango, lychee, lemons, oranges, chiku, and papaya. And to complete the full ecosystem of sustainable practices, the institute is going to keep cows on-campus, for both compost and dairy and develop an 100 percent organic fish farm that can also create natural fertilizer. This integrated approach to applied learning allows current students in training, as well as industry professionals, to really value local, organic produce, and explore more sustainable culinary practices.

Vedatya chefs in the farm.

Vedatya chefs in the farm.

Amit Kapur, Managing Promoter of Vedatya explains: “India’s population is over 1,2 billion, almost 18 percent of the world, and yet we are a nation of mostly male engineers. 90 percent of those engineers are unemployed. We need to change our education system quickly and develop new types of skills. India’s education system is still in silos, and very gendered, and class divided.”

Amit Kapur, Managing Promoter of Vedatya.

Amit Kapur, Managing Promoter of Vedatya.

Kapur continues: “We really wanted to create something that will last beyond our lifetimes.” Ved means knowledge in Sanskrit, and Aditya means Sun. Vedatya, therefore, is a coined name that sounds like ‘Source of Knowledge.’ Its goal is to become a model for higher education and a hub of interdisciplinary knowledge with industry – where scientists and philosophers can work alongside farmers, gardeners, artists, chefs – and even engineers.

Chef Megha Kohli, Head Chef at the restaurant Lavaash Delhi, holding a class on how cuisines are reborn.

Chef Megha Kohli, Head Chef at the restaurant Lavaash Delhi, holding a class on how cuisines are reborn.

At Vedatya, a chef isn’t just a chef anymore. A culinary student could work anywhere in India’s food business – from being a hotelier or restaurateur, to re-branding and distributing local products to support small scale farmers and communities. Students need to know about locality, seasonality, and heritage – as well as all the soft skills of service design. One of the Vedatya’s alumni, Preet Singh, went back home and became an organic honey producer, selling his brand across India and overseas in Singapore.

Alumni's organic honey brand is sold across India and overseas.

Alumni’s organic honey brand is sold across India and overseas.

Business know-how.
Another way that Vedatya is promoting applied education is by partnering with different industry players through an industry-academic partnership model that is quite unique in India. Industry partners are potential employers of Vedatya’s graduates, and so they can be an integral part of student’s curriculum that is reviewed every two years. This initiative has led to partnerships with InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), one of the world’s largest hotel companies, and with Columbia Asia Hospitals, one of Asia’s leading hospital chains, in the healthcare industry, to name but two.

14. Wood fire cooking

Most of India cooks over traditional wood fire ovens.

Class inequity – a major challenge.
“The Institute is in a rural setting, so every year we give 2-3 scholarship to young people from the neighboring local village,” adds Kapur. “Slowly we are getting young people interested in coming here to get an education but it isn’t easy.”

Vedatya has great plans for maximizing its land with organic farming.

Vedatya has great plans for maximizing its land with organic farming.

India has huge inequalities and a very complex caste system. The villagers come from backgrounds where they have absolutely no exposure at all to rapidly changing urban life. It’s a huge sacrifice for a youngster get an education when they are expected to help their families survive.
“One of our scholarship students wanted to quit after only a few months,” Kapur explained. Eventually he told the director that the reason he wanted to quit was because he is being bullied by his friends about the formal way he is required to be dressed at Vedatya. Even his family teased him for looking like a ‘plucked chicken’ because he was following Vedatya’s dress code to be well-groomed and wear a uniform.
“It sounds funny to us, but he was deeply ashamed. There is a conflict and context that even we don’t understand. We are talking a difference of 20 kilometers. We need to support rural communities and give them a longer perspective. We also need to help these communities survive,” concludes Kapur.

4fresh produce

Fresh organic produce grown on site.

Organic India
When Vedatya and the Tasting India platform talk about food, they mean everything from the production of food, to food on the plate. Vedatya believes that organic food is second nature for India and it has the potential to be the new economic driver for a sustainable future, to getting people into the workplace and tapping into new industries such health tourism. Organic farming has the ability to feed India through new distribution channels, and offer solutions to major challenges, such as how to deal with food surplus, nurture cultural diversity within the vast continent, and create major export crops and produce that can take more than India’s current 1 percent of the growing global organic market.

Holi celebration, March 2018

Holi celebration, March 2018

Text by Tanya Kim Grassley.