What is this row of bizarre objects, I hear you ask? No, not a collection of sex toys, nor a shelf full of ritual implements. This is the range of neti jars available at Sydney's Adyar Bookshop.
I have been an enthusiast of the ancient Indian cleansing ritual known as neti ever since I was a small boy. My mother and I learned how to do it at the hands of a master, a real live Indian swami from the Satyananda Ashram in Bihar. Other children attached to the yoga school would regularly perform neti as an eternally popular party trick, to the horrified fascination of more normal children and parents.
For those of you who might be out of the loop, neti is a simple but effective form of cleansing the nasal passages by running a stream of warm, salty water in through one nostril, and letting it trickle out the other. It does happen, believe me - all it takes is a little forward bending and, sometimes, some patience.
It is an ancient yogic practice, and said to cure you of all kinds of ills. There are other, more extreme forms of neti that can be done with a thin rubber hose and even a piece of rag, but I am a little too sensitive for that.
Within the yogic cleansing repertoire there exists a range of traditional cleansing methods, including lagoo and kunjal, which involves drinking large amounts of salty water and vomiting it all back up again. I once took my long-suffering partner to a yoga weekend devoted to this task, and the poor thing was rather taken aback by it all. He hasn't had a very high opinion of yoga ever since.
But we neti enthusiasts, though small in number, are among good company. Even Oprah Winfrey is reputed to do neti every morning.
I have a really beautiful neti pot which I bought over 10 years ago at the Satyananda ashram in Mangrove Mountain. It is a real treasure, hand-made pottery that describes the shape of the Om symbol. It is also a great rarity now, as I believe the potter has passed away and you can no longer buy them.
For those interested in researching the health benefits of neti, there is a fascinating book on the subject by David Frawley which I thoroughly recommend.

St. Patrick's Cathedral, Parramatta

I have been at a wonderful conference on Art and Theology for most of this week, and have done and heard some really amazing things.
Late yesterday afternoon we went on a guided tour of St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Parramatta, and it was really an amazing time. I had heard much about the church and the beauty of its restoration after it was gutted by fire some years ago. But I wasn't prepared to be so dazzled by the place. Generally I am a critic of church renovation and contemporary worship spaces. But this really is a transcendent religious space, and it inspired in me a prayerful, reverent attitude. It is also a place I plan on returning to again and again and taking my friends. Almost enough to make you convert to Catholicism.
So much of the building and its artwork is incredible, but I was taken by the piece of sculpture that hangs above the altar in the new part of the church. This remarkable piece is not a crown of thorns (though it looks like one). Instead it is meant to be the halo that surrounds Christ - certain points of the sculpture are solid gold.
The crucifix is wonderful, naturally.
The altar in the old part of the church was also quite breathtaking. This whole area is lit very dimly, and always seemed to be filled with people praying quietly. The tabernacle is quite fascinating, and very modern. Without being irreligious, I thought the great silver egg looked vaguely like something from Dr. Seuss. It worked, though.
Being the dyed-in-the-wool ritualist that I am, I was much taken with the display of the sacramental oils in a special lit cabinet. I thought it was a stroke of genius to bring the business of the church right to the very forefront, indeed, to highlight it, quite literally.
But without a doubt the real highlight of the place was the exquisite 500 year-old statue of the Madonna and Child. This statue is enough to bring anyone to their knees, and is without a doubt the most beautiful statue of the Virgin in all of Australia.
I understand that the cathedral hosts a Taize service once a month, so I must see if I can get along. I'd love to be singing and praying in that space.

Staying Spiritual - Travel

A couple of weeks ago I was on a panel at the Swedenborg Association discussing ways of staying spiritual in a sometimes challenging world.
I had a great response from the talk, so I thought that over the coming weeks I would present some of the material we discussed on this blog, in a little more detail.
So here is the first instalment in my practical little guide to staying in touch with your spirit.

Travel – Someone (I actually think it was Siimon Reynolds) once said that a holiday starts the day you book it. Travel offers us an opportunity to extend our horizons and listen to different stories. Travel need not involve expensive trips to foreign shores. We can travel even within our own cities. Spend a day in your own town as a tourist and see how exhilarating it can be.

Resources:, Change Your Life Through Travel by Jillian Robinson, The Way of the Traveler by Joseph Dispenza, The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau
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