by Sharon Henshall
Sharon Henshall recently spent time in Monte Sahaja, Portugal, with Mooji and his Sangha. She found herself regularly drawn to a small valley within its undulating lands. Being immersed in nature’s gentle beauty created inner space and a deeper clarity.
Sunlight soaked my tilted face as I sat cross-legged on a wooden bench tucked within Parvati Valley – no, not in the Indian Himalayas, but within the peaceful hills of Portugal. My heart felt deeply touched by this magical spot which, only a year prior, had been hidden by brambles. Today it brimmed with new life, some of which had been lovingly planted and some of which were simply nature’s gifts; now breathing freely since the uprooting of those thorny bushes. It was springtime and I was volunteering at Monte Sahaja, home to Mooji, a master of the advaita tradition, and to a warm and wonderful community. This was my final morning of what had unfolded as an incredibly profound nine-day experience.
A call for silence
The Sangha, which is the Sanskrit word for community of Truth, are working together to create contemplative areas on the land, with the intention to host retreats in the future, and Parvati Valley is one such nook. Last September I’d attended a silent retreat with Mooji at the nearby eco-resort Zmar. It had fired up a yearning to spend some time immersed within his wisdom, and gratefully offer whatever I could for all I’d understood in his presence. I arrived with no preconceived ideas of what I would find here, unsure of how I could help, and clueless on whether I would feel inclined to put pen to paper. However Parvati Valley soon enveloped me in her sweet embrace – from the first time I was steered up her steep banks on a land tour, I had known instantly that this particular place of beauty would be special for me.
Mooji’s presence and guidance created a strong loving energy, unlike any I’d experienced before. Following a warm welcome from each and every member of the community, my days were spent with a mix of activities; I varnished a table, planted bulbs, fertilised new trees, weeded, raked, cooked and cleaned. Working outdoors and away from my computer was a welcome change from Bristol life and I witnessed so many of my thoughts, judgements and outdated habits fall away. A stillness within the Monte Sahaja community allowed space to reconnect with my true inner nature. I found pleasure from each task, but whenever there was a spare moment, I beelined for one particular place to offer up my help... Parvati Valley.
The kiss of torrential rain which fell for three months over winter, bestowed springtime with a green lushness and an abundance of colour. Grass soon grew tall and clusters of wildflowers danced in the breeze. A strimmer was organised to ‘draw back the curtains’ within Parvati Valley, unveiling an array of plants and blooms which had been planted over the year. As I raked the soft fallen grass away it felt as though I was also shedding my own overgrown sense of self. Each stroke revealed a deeper clarity and space that had seemingly become lost amidst a jungle of thoughts.
Something kept calling me back and Parvati Valley became my regular early morning stop off before breakfast. Wandering down from my camping spot in the ‘Upper Himalayas’ my feet seemed to walk me directly there. I quite liked handing my decision making to my tootsies! Each visit would uncover something new, with its array of shelters, a pond and even a swing to entice me to sit for a while. I would close my eyes and listen. A melting pot of buzzing, bird song and general wildlife chatter filled the air. Two green speckled frogs once caught me by surprise when they leapt into the pond for their early morning swim. On one particular day I planted some rather dowdy brown bulbs, unsure of whether they would ever push through the soil to show the world what secrets were held inside. If not this year, maybe next... maybe never; it all now pointed to a deeper understanding. Sinking into such natural surrounds seems to remove the dirt from our eyes – far from the bustling city lifestyles which often blow smoke rings into our minds. Most of us have experienced those moments which occur when gazing at stunning views – something falls away to leave us in a state of stillness and peace. Nature unquestionably reminds us of our natural state... where ‘nothing’ reigns supreme over ‘something’. A thoughtless state – not because thoughts don’t appear, they just don’t rule. It’s as if at these moments, the universe waves its wand and banishes what cannot be taken with us to the grave. Which, of course, is everything. Or, as Mooji puts it: “If you want to go all the way, throw all away”.
So, as I sat in Parvati Valley on my final morning, everything fell away. Not in the sense of no longer caring about anything or anyone – in fact, upon recognition that everything is transient, a deeper love and gratitude for all that comes my way bubbled up. And rather than the thoughts themselves disappearing, it was my attachment which dissolved – to judgements, concepts, preconceived ideas... and the rest. As I absorbed the scene of harmonious chaos, everything felt so simple; multitudes of plants and wildlife simply resided together, without discrimination. Similarly, if I didn’t attach any judgement to my vast mix of emotions, they simply came and went without any struggle or suffering; sadness and happiness, anger and peace, shyness and openness – nothing needed to be suppressed or held onto. For me, the sweet energy of Parvati Valley represented that of Monte Sahaja and Mooji; everything naturally unfolding in a true way which was neither ego-driven or forced.
Whether I was chopping vegetables, brushing varnish onto an old wooden table, pulling weeds, sharing moments with the community, listening to Mooji’s wisdom or even feeding the neighbouring farmer’s pigs – an awareness of a natural state and love remained strong. Although easier to remember when sun-kissed and surrounded by wildflowers, Parvati Valley reminded me that wherever we are, whatever is happening, whatever actions occupy our time, each moment holds the possibility of pure peace. And just as I trusted my feet to take me to Parvati Valley, I trust that even within my busy inner-city existence, freedom can be experienced without moving an inch.
For details about future retreats with Mooji, visit www.mooji.org