Posts tagged iskon
A teeny tiny cat that stole my heart!

If you followed my ISKON experience on Facebook, you'll already know TTC the 'teeny tiny cat'.

A little cat that stole my heart on the very first day I arrived.

There are around 40 cats at the temple. The number has grown over time since locals have been known to come in the night and dump their unwanted kittens. The cats are well looked after as far as possible, but ultimately they are still feral and so its still much a case of fend for yourself.

On the first day I arrived I spotted a tiny and very skinny timid cat with huge blue eyes that looked as though they held the entire universe. I stepped slowly towards him and he skittered away behind a tree, peering out with curiosity. I edged closer and reached out my hand, but again he skittered away... 

In that moment I made it my mission that by the end of my stay he would be snuggling on my lap!

Every day I saw him, his funny plaintive meow could be heard across the courtyard, and little by little his curiosity and confidence grew. On the third day I touched his fur and ran my hands over his tiny body.  Then it grew from there, the love affair took off. I loved this little guy.

By the end of the first week I had succeeded in my mission, Each morning as I crossed the courtyard to fill my water bottle upon waking, he'd come bounding up to me to hop under my big knitted poncho and snuggle into my warm lap for a snooze. The mornings there were very cold- about 7C compared with around 25C late afternoon. It took a minute or so for his little body to stop shivering and settle in.

It was so hard to say goodbye on the last day. We'd built such a bond, he knew that as soon as I sat down he could hop in for a hug and it tore me apart too know that i'd be leaving and the long morning cuddles would come to and end especially as the days got colder as I imagine this would be his first winter. 

But there is also happiness. In those two weeks I witnessed his confidence grow so much, rubbing round people's legs, allowing people to pick him up, and most importantly standing his ground when it came to scraps of food from people's plates- he wouldn't get close enough before to be in with a chance. I think is little guy is a fighter.

Not only did my time at the ISKON temple in Brighuega provide space for me to explore and question my sense of spirituality and my own inner truths, it showed me the power of love and connection in it's most deepest sense, in a way that caught me off guard and reminded me that love often shows up when you least expect it.

Be safe and strong my Teeny Tiny one.

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Two weeks living the Hare Krishna way

(note... I wrote this post on the plane coming back from Madrid, but then got so wrapped up in preparations for the Raw retreat Experience I have only just had a chance to add some photos and publish 10 days later!)

I've just spent two weeks volunteering within the Hare Krishna community in a little town called Brighuega just outside Madrid. This time it was not a solo adventure as I had planned the trip with Mike, a fellow coach and life explorer within a similar philosophy to my own. It was a beautiful opportunity to share this experience not just physically but on every level since there was plenty of opportunity for discussion and reflection.

As with all my Workaway experiences, I was volunteering in return for my bed and board. This time it mainly consisted of cleaning but there was actually a lot less needing doing each day that I am familiar with. Just 2-3 hours of work with the rest of the day left open for us to create whatever wanted to.... Mainly a lot of reading, writing and thinking!

One my daily tasks I was sweeping and mopping the main temple space. It was actually a very meditative experience and something I came to look forward to. The quiet spiritual energy, soft music in background. I also had to dispose of the flower garlands when they dried up... instead of putting these in the refuse I took myself off on a walk across the hills and had something of a flower ceremony where I through the petals up into the wind. A very special experience... I shared a little video here.

If you read this blog post, then you will already have got a little understanding of community life in relation to the protected cows that form a huge aspect of their lifestyle, but there was so much more. Volunteering within a community offers the richest of experiences since there are so many people to observe, to learn from, to speak to and be 'one' of. There were around 20 in this community, some were English speaking, but the majority we Spanish with very little English knowledge and this made me wish more than ever that I knew the language, and it made me more determined than ever before to step up and learn Spanish (watch this space!)

One of the things that surprised me most was how quickly and comfortably I fell into their routines. Mealtimes were twice a day with a little snack in the evening. For someone who is used to snacking little and often all day long, this was a huge change for me yet one I enjoyed and didn't struggle with as I thought I might. Very interesting... Something I will consider more once I'm back into my familiar home surroundings. Is the little and often approach serving me? Or is time to change things up?

The biggest benefit I soon became aware of, where there is no food available between mealtimes, is how little I think about food, and more importantly, how little I procrastinated! I had taken my laptop with a view to do some work and reading etc in spare time. I was amazed just how productive I could be since there were literally no distractions.

My discipline when I am at home is often very poor.... my mind can be hyperactive like a child... I get an idea for a recipe so rush in to the kitchen to make it there and then, or I nibble food unnecessarily even when I'm not hungry in a act of self sabotage to put off doing a task. At the ISKON centre (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) where there was not source of distraction by way of food, plus a very minimal bedroom set up, it became the optimum productive environment. It has me curious as to how I could re-create this for myself back at home.

Breakfast and lunch were huge meals... I've haven't eaten as big a breakfast in as long as I can remember. Literally the size of a dinner you'd eat in a restaurant. But in contrast the evening meal with no more than a light snack... Sometimes just a small bowl of fruit and a slice of cake (though I couldn't eat any cake due to the dairy). Many of the devotees skipped this 'meal' all together. I couldn't help but note it would have been very easy to follow an intermittent fasting style diet eating between the hours of 9am-3pm.

Even though dinner was tiny, I never felt hungry between meals (I guess in part because the other two were very generous).  The bread was amazing as well. I rarely eat bread but I ate it almost everyday there, it was homemade sourdough with a beautiful light and melt-in-your-mouth crumb, so very different in texture and digestibility when compared with regular bread high in gluten and additives. That's now another thing on my list to make (I've been meaning to make my own sourdough for ages to this is a good prod to do so!)

The most meaningful part about mealtimes, and something I've noted everywhere I've been, is the sense of community. The time that everyone comes together to share the experience of food, to sit together and talk. Sometimes these talks would go on for a couple hours after the meal had ended and last all afternoon. One couple who arrived on our second day were particularly interesting. Hare Krishna devotees and travelling Kirtan performers, that had a wonderful history and stories to share. It's hard to describe, but life feels so much richer having known them. We plan to keep in touch.

At every meal time you couldn’t go and help yourself to food as someone would always serve you. When it is offered and accepted, the food becomes prasadam. When Krishna accepts what we offer to Him, it becomes prasadam. The word prasadam means “mercy".  For me, the act of being served at specific mealtimes, instead of helping myself whenever I felt like it was a very  meaningful gesture of mindfulness.

Aside from the food, other elements of the was of life that I particularly enjoyed was the flow of the day... Early starts and early nights. The devotees would typically wake up between 4:30am and 6am for their service and personal practice, and so by 9:30pm every evening the entire place was dark and silent. It was beautiful. It created a space and the 'permission' for me to also go to bed much earlier than I would at home. At home, if I choose to go to bed at that time- around 10pm, the TV is often blaring and lights are on all over the house and I find it hard to allow myself to settle and end up keeping going till much closer to midnight.

At the ISKON centre, when all is quiet, dark and still by 9:30,  it's as if my body is invited to simply join in and sleep. That said, I did not get up as early as they did, but in an ideal world I'd love to wake naturally at around 6am. This is another area I am more motivated than ever to find a way to create in my own everyday life, so that a strong morning routine can be built around it. I know from experience that life flows so much better when I have a consistent, powerful morning routine.

The environment in its entirely was a beautiful platform for really exploring and questioning my life. The simple daily routines, the pace of life, the silence, the compassion of the devotees, the beautiful hillsides and the buildings themselves- beautiful old stone structures and wonderful old trees within the garden and courtyard- all served to really slow me down, to live from my heart.

The wonderful community buildings nestled in the hillside!

The wonderful community buildings nestled in the hillside!

Note: I was going to add a few words about 'Teeny Tiny Cat' who, whilst I was at the temple, stole my heart... but it seemed more fitting to dedicate a separate post to him.

P.s you can see Mike's take on the exeperience here, I love the way we both relate to the same thing very differently! 

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As an ethical vegan... would you drink this milk?

I am currently in the middle of a two week volunteering residency at a Hare Krishna (ISKON) temple near Madrid. I am always curious to learn more about others cultures, religions and philosophies to broaden my mind to experiences and ask questions.

Within the Hare Krishna movement, the preparation and eating of food is based on principles of compassion, non-violence and balanced living. In this way, Krishna devotees advocate a lacto-vegetarian diet, strictly avoiding meat, fish and eggs. Most do consume dairy and this is where I find it is particularly interesting since cow protection is a high priority, largely because according to ancient Vedic texts the cow is representative of Mother Earth.

From my first day in the community I made it very clear that I was vegan, and this did mean there was quite a lot I had to avoid. Upon realising this, many of the devotees were quick to inform me that their milk is raw, unpasteurised and ethical- ‘ahimsa’ meaning it is of ‘slaughter free’ origin. In this particular case all of the milk, butter and cheese consumed at the temple comes directly from their own heard of five cows that they care for on the land for the duration of their natural life span.

This concept intrigued me as I hadn’t been aware of this ‘ahimsa’ philosophy before, and upon seeing the passion with which the devotees spoke about their cows, I felt it my duty to understand more.

Regardless of the ethics, I stood firm with my decision not to consume the dairy since I don’t consider it to be a product that I want to consume on a nutritional basis. In addition my body no longer tolerates it well (proven by the ‘phlegmy’ throat I got when I accidentally had a trace of it.) That said, many people in the health world consider raw dairy to be a highly nutritional product in comparison to the regular pasteurised antibiotic and hormone laden cartoons of milk.  However this blog post is not a nutritional reflection, so I am not going to focus any further on that side of things.

The question that makes me genuinely curious… As an ethical vegan, would you drink this milk?

My first thought was that in many ways it was akin to eating eggs that come from you own hens. I know a few people who follow a vegan diet where the only animal product they ever consume is their own hens eggs. Is there any difference with these cows?

the cow 'shrine'

the cow 'shrine'

I decided to see for myself and headed down to the cow shed at milking time. I’ll admit I was not expecting the level of care and genuine love (almost ‘god like’ love) for the animals that I was greeted with. 

  • Each cow had her own painted name plate above her stall- as I understand it there spend very little time in the stalls.

  • There was a shrine within the cow shed.

  • There were ‘cow height’ windows in each of the stalls.

  • There were artworks and garlands hanging from the walls and ceilings.

  • The water trough in the main open space was decorated with mosaic as a beautiful centrepiece.

  • There was a large covered yard area and a huge field (not shown in photos) and then another huge field across the track so I was told.

When it came to milking the cows, there were no restraints used in any way, the cows gave their milk willingly. The cows are looked after for their entire lives REGARDLESS of whether they give milk or not. For example, one cow never gave any milk beyond the weaning  of her calf, yet she’s treated no differently to the others. This also interested me as I'd assumed they kept giving milk only because they continued to be milked- but that case suggested otherwise. There was another 16 year old cow with a 13 year old daughter who still gives milk each day. Interestingly, the 13 year old daughter who has never had a calf also gives milk each day… the community have no idea why that is since (as I understand it) cows typically only give milk after having a calf.

Learning all this from the ISKON devotees, as I watched them handle the cows with such genuine care and attention fascinated and inspired me. In all honesty, I struggle to think of a better way I’d want to live as a cow.

Now I’d love to hear your thoughts… 

As an ethical vegan, would you drink the milk from these cows?  

Would you consider anything ‘wrong’ with the way in which these cows live their lives?  

I’d genuinely love to hear any thoughts you would like to share on this matter. For me, there are still areas I am unsure of- for example the environmental impact and sustainability of creating ‘slaughter-free’ diaries on a mass scale seems very questionable. However it is undeniable that my mind has been opened during my time here, allowing me to understand, explore and question things in an entirely new light. 


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