Al-Ahram Weekly Online   4 - 10 March 2010
Issue No. 988
Travel
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Land of Zen

Amira El-Naqeeb walks on the path of bliss

'In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness' -- Gandhi

"We are not human beings on a spiritual journey; we are spiritual beings on a human journey," said writer and university professor Stephen R Covey. That is what brought a group from different walks of life together in one place with one aim in mind: to live the spiritual experience. From Nuweiba to the Western Desert, I ventured out in search of my own nirvana.

PATH OF BLISS: The destination is South Sinai, the land where God spoke to Moses, home to the St Catherine Monastery, and where old pilgrimages from all religions took place. The location is Ananda, an ecolodge 20km from Nuweiba if you take the coast towards Taba or 40km from Taba in the direction of Nuweiba.

I took the overnight bus from Cairo to Nuweiba where I was to meet, for the first time, our instructor and the group. In the early morning hours, I reached Ananda after a seven-hour bus ride and luckily made it to our first meditation and yoga session. The name of our yoga and meditation instructor, Didi, means sister in Sanskrit. The first thing I noticed about Didi was her genuine smile that reminded me of author and spiritual teacher Eileen Cady's words: "She was like a joyous child living gloriously in the ever present now, without a single concern about even the next moment of time."

Our group of 12 gathered on the beach facing the sea, and waited for Didi to start our first session. As a yogi, there were some asanas or postures which I was familiar with from different practices. Others, such as the fish eye and the wheel were new to me. Originally, the asanas served as stable postures for prolonged meditation.

Didi met us half an hour before our first practice of the day. She gave an introduction about the asanas she is teaching and the philosophy of her mother organisation Ananda Marga. The name means the Path of Bliss and its mission is to serve humanity by helping people reach their own bliss. Didi explained that through the daily practice of yoga and meditation, one can learn to concentrate and focus. "It's only through silence that one can listen to oneself," she preached.

I tried to concentrate on the sensation rather than the moves. With Didi smiling all the time, it was easy to relax and her smile was contagious. I observed how my body became like a sponge for positive energy. Our first session consisted of yoga, meditation and a simple self-massage. As simple as these exercises were, we all felt the surge of energy running through our veins. Although not every move was new to me, I couldn't help noticing that being surrounded with this pristine golden beach, chiselled mountains with grades of burgundy, and clear sky has its own unique impact.

The simplicity of the ecolodge also forces you to strip away from the trappings of modern life and go back to basics, beginning with the wooden huts roofed with palm fronds, to the mattress on the floor and the Bedouin seating area with klims and cushions. All the elements were like a warm invitation to embrace mother nature.

After our practice we came together again for breakfast. Most of the group was vegetarian, so they revelled in the diversity of the Egyptian cuisine. After licking our fingers to wipe off traces of fuul, hummus, tahini and falafel, I began talking with Didi over a nice cup of Bedouin tea. First, I wanted to know why she chose this location in particular.

"There is something special about Sinai," she explained. "The holiness of the place makes you feel that nature here is carrying the deep roots of spirituality." Ananda in Sanskrit means bliss, which is the infinite happiness above pain and pleasure. Didi explained that she found out about the ecolodge from a yoga student: "I found this place to be very special in terms of energy; it vibrated with my inner and outer existence. Perhaps I also got sentimental because it carries part of the name of my organisation."

After breakfast, our group split with the promise of reuniting before sunset for the day's last session, to bid the day farewell. Sammy Sayed, a 24-year-old Egyptian musician, and I kept each other's company as we sought our individual bliss in the sand and sea. Sayed recounted his journey with spirituality.

Sayed's father is Indian, so he began practising meditation at a very young age. "India has always been perceived as a land of inherent spirituality, so practising meditation was an integral part of my father's culture," he explained. However, collective meditation has a more powerful influence on him, as it gives him a deeper relaxing experience. "I'm so glad that more young Egyptians are interested in these practices now," he added. "I think yoga and meditation are very empowering and it helps us face the daily stresses of life."

For more information about accommodation, call Ezz Gelbana on: 002 012 356 1742, or visit http:// weekly.ahram.org.eg/2007/839/tr31.htm

INNER ALCHEMY: "In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness" -- Gandhi

In another part of the country, a similar activity was taking place. A group of meditators were heading to the Western Desert seeking refuge in its tranquil energy. International Certified Meditation Instructor Mohamed Eissa was explaining that through his travels around the world, he discovered that every place has its unique spirit. Practising martial arts and meditation for 16 years enabled his body to detect various energies.

"Every living being can sense energy," he said. "However, to be able to sharpen this ability you have to meditate and put this intention in your head. Your brain would then automatically adjust its global positioning system [GPS] to determine the different energies."

To further clarify the different energies found at different locations, Eissa explained that by wandering the mountains of Sinai he feels recharged, rejuvenated and lively. Sinai's energy is strong and masculine, which according to Chinese philosophy is called Yang, as opposed to the soft, tranquil feminine Yin energy one finds in the Western Desert, specifically the White Desert.

"I can't scientifically prove why the energy in Sinai is that powerful," revealed Eissa. "Maybe because of the volcanic rocks, the granite in the mountains or the spirituality engulfing the St Catherine area, which having witnessed so many miracles is called the 'alive place' by locals."

Before starting dynamic meditation or an inner alchemy session, as Eissa calls it, we toured the desert to get a feel of its energy. This practice, he noted, helps us feel the different energies of the White and Black deserts to make us more in tune with our surroundings. Our first stop was the Black Desert, where it was clearly evident how it got its name: large sand dunes and mountains covered in black basalt .

We hopped off the bus with the intention of sensing and exploring the spirit of the place. As we wandered about, together yet alone, I climbed one of the black mountains, sat on one of the big rocks and held some black stones in my hands. I closed my eyes trying to establish a connection. After some time, I felt the heat emanating from the stones, in my hands -- it had strong viberations.

Back on the bus, we shared our experiences and Eissa listened attentively and watched how each of us opened up like a blooming flower to the essence of our own existence -- energy. According to some Chinese philosophies, the human body is made up of five elements: water, fire, wood, metal and earth. Our body resonates with these elements in nature. If there is an imbalance in one of these elements, we find ourselves longing to do something to restore harmony to our body and soul, such as going to the beach or spending time in greenery.

"Everything has a frequency," noted Eissa. "That is why the human body affects and is affected by its surroundings."

Our next stop, and final destination of the day, was the White Desert. Upon entering the area a veil of serenity enwrapped me. The open vista of the white-washed desert, standing in contrast with the azure sky was sublime. I could easily detect the difference between the white and black deserts. The air was lighter, the breathing was easier; I felt I was floating.

Sunset, as I have learned through my verastile yoga and meditation practices, has an ample supply of energy. Gathered in a semi-circle facing Eissa for our first inner alchemy session of the day, we were instructed to focus, take in positive energy as we inhale with palms extended to the sky, and push out negative energy as we exhale and bring our palms down to Earth. I don't recall how long we did this exercise, but I remember that everything ceased to exist except the universe and me.

In the end, I was left relaxed with a much-needed sense of wholeness, as did the rest of the group.

For more information about Dynamic Meditation, join Free Dynamic Meditation FDM group on Facebook. For more information about the White desert visit http:

//weekly.ahram.org.eg/2007/834/tr4.htm

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