High-grade living and ancient wisdom with The Broad Place in Sydney, Australia…
This post comes to us from Natalie Shukur.
Run by former hospitality dynamo and marketing executive Jacqui Lewis and her partner, product designer and art director Arran Russell, Sydney’s The Broad Place is a center dedicated to ancient practices and knowledge for what they have coined “modern high grade living”. Alongside philosophical gatherings, mentoring, workplace programs and other methods of changing people’s thinking to put them on a path to better quality of life, Vedic mediation is the cornerstone of The Broad Place, around which everything orbits. And it is the practice of Vedic meditation that I took away from Jacqui and Arran last year.
From the same origins as Transcendental meditation (recently brought into the spotlight by devotee and advocate David Lynch), Vedic meditation is a mantra-based practice, ideally engaged in for 20 minutes, twice a day, that helps you transcend thought and dive into pure consciousness, cleansing the nervous system and releasing stress, negativity and tension in the process. Just some of the benefits include greater clarity, decreased anxiety, increased joy, and heightened creativity. And where the mind goes, the body follows, with this type of meditation proven in medical studies to lower blood pressure, boost brainpower and improve cardiovascular health. Twenty minutes of meditation is said to be equivalent to two hours of sleep. A course in Vedic meditation is certainly an investment (costing around $1,000), but it’s one of the most sustainable, transformative, life-long tools one can have in his/her self-care kit. If you’re intrigued, seek out a certified VM or TM teacher that holds a course that runs over four consecutive sessions (anyone who claims they can teach the method in a single sitting is not legit).
Aside from the VM practice, there were countless takeaways from my time spent at The Broad Place that, whether you’re a meditator or not, are little gems of wisdom for boosting creativity, productivity, intimacy and getting to grips with that most modern of chronic ailments: stress. Here just are a tiny handful of lessons that continue to resonate.
High Grade Living
This is one of the grounding philosophies of The Broad Place and such a simple yet mind-expanding concept. “High grade living doesn’t mean striving and pushing for luxury or premium,” says Lewis. “We already have a high grade life, if only we let some of the low grade fall away and stop holding us down. It’s about choosing the best in every moment and letting the low grade diminish. High grade living is where we take each day at a time, and do a little more of what we love, of what makes us happy, and a little less of what doesn’t serve you on the highest level.”
-Will you feel better for going for that walk, or better without it?
-Will you feel healthier if you drink half a bottle of wine or if you go without tonight?
-Will losing your temper over something small in a few hours make you feel proud of who you are, or make you feel regret?
-Will taking 10 minutes for a quiet cup of tea or coffee help you be more productive for the rest of the workday, or can you really not spare the time?
“It’s really just having a heightened sense of awareness that allows us to make the right choices, and a heightened sense of awareness comes from being present,” says Lewis. “We need to tackle the small things, as it’s the small actions that lead to bigger actions. It’s honestly no wonder we put off our own happiness, as sometimes the thought of everything we need to do to achieve this is simply too huge to tackle. So start small. Fill each day with something you love, and manage situations in a way that makes you proud. Treat your body and digestion with respect and love, and nurture your mind. Work on your relationships and friendships with little things — manageable things that make a difference. Take this thought with you in everything you do: ‘will this bring me happiness, or take away from it?’ And then make an educated decision from that place, not from a place of guilt or ‘should’. Make decisions based on bringing the highest grade into your life at every opportunity.”
Leaning into Fear
A former anxiety sufferer, Lewis now encourages facing your fears head-on. “Shying away from it, pretending it’s not there, or worse, altogether avoiding doing the things that bring on fear and anxiety I have found futile,” she says. “We are technically as free as birds. Gathering only what they need to create their homes, they spend most of their time socialising loudly, singing and gliding through the air. Light, beautiful and working with nature’s elements, they are the opposite of fear and anxiety. I think that whenever we are gripped with fear or anxiety, or that awful mix of both, then looking to nature is truly inspiring. When I sit in our backyard at sunset I don’t see any anxious lorikeets, stressed out magpies or over worked kookaburras. I see beauty, I see calm and I see grace. And right now, that is how I want to be.”
Live Every Day with Wonder and Awe
On a recent holiday, Lewis noticed how much space she gave herself to simply marvel at life, admiring the sun glinting off puddles and relishing the squelching sound her feet made when she stepped into the muddy sand to launch her stand-up paddleboard. She took the time to hand-grind and French press her coffee each morning and enjoyed long moments peacefully observing nature. “How to capture all the charm, all the beauty and wonder of holiday life, and splice it with real life?” she pondered. “I believe the key is to keep the wonder, to keep the awe; to keep open and broad and expansive. To take nothing for granted in day-to-day living. I don’t mean in a ‘wow, isn’t life beautiful?’ fake happy way. That doesn’t last. I mean in a deep resonation with every little thing at home and at work. Noticing the way the rain falls on the windscreen driving to work instead of bitching about the rain. Taking the time to drink our coffee seated, not walking down the road on our cell phones. Instead of eating our toast standing in our kitchen while making lunch, taking the time to sit at the table. Will we fit it all in if we take some time to luxuriate in each moment? From experience, yeah we do. Is it more stressful taking the time to do things well, and enjoy them as we might lose a little time? Absolutely not, as what we gain in return is tenfold more important: living fully.”
This one is a really profound exercise in flipping our perspective. “My teacher Thom Knoles always says that we must be careful what we worship, and that entertaining the same thought or experience over and over is worship,” explains Lewis. “As humans we tend to worship the negative, thinking all the time about a perceived bad situation, spending lots of energy reliving the experience, telling the story over and over more elaborately each time. So why do we worship something negative, investing all our thinking into that time we were ‘wronged’ or disrespected or felt anger? Why worship when we were cut off in traffic or a friend said something unkind? When we define it as worship, it becomes a whole different matter, doesn’t it? It feels downright silly to worship something we don’t actually want more of, yes? This experience is the recycling of stress. Something undesirable happened and then we keep reviving it. This simply creates more stress in our nervous systems. If it was awful the first time, why do we feel compelled to continue recycling the experience? With each retelling we pull ourselves out of the present moment, polluting it with a negative past. We must stop doing this if we want to increase our happiness.” When we are negative out loud, we don’t just create more stress for ourselves, but for those around us, too. And even when we’re careful not to voice these dark emotions, we might be thinking them nonetheless. “Secretly, in the privacy of our minds, harbouring negative thoughts, judgemental tones and down right cruel thoughts, is just as bad for our nervous systems as saying it out loud,” says Lewis. “Halting this also reduces stress and increases happiness.” The solution? Compassion. “Every human is doing one thing: seeking happiness as best they can. Once we truly understand and respect that, and the fact they might not be seeking it the same way we are, but still want it nonetheless, then our compassion increases. All the ‘negative’ experiences melt away. It’s just all stuff involving other people wanting happiness just like us. Compassion is a remarkable way to cancel out negativity on every level. Let’s embrace more of it.”
For more of Lewis’ musings and modern take on ancient philosophies, check out The Broad Place journal; download their Seven Day Mind Cleanse; and look out for their up-coming Vedic meditation courses and retreats taking place in Australia, Japan and Los Angeles in 2016.