Find your sacred space: an interview with Katiza Satya & Kevin Sahaj
by Michel Fijn
To set foot inside the sacred space of Katiza Satya and Kevin Sahaj is to feel submerged in the very essence of their being. The smell of sandalwood incense, the simple tones of dark wood, earthly colours and matted white walls, the many statues and tokens of those who represent the divine, holding the space that is their home now; all of it breathes the story of two yogis that are sincerely dedicated to be the living truth of what it is they teach to those around them.
After many years of traveling the world together to practice and teach their own special blend of Yoga and Dharma, they now find themselves settled in Amsterdam. Together with Delight Yoga they are turning their intention towards creating true sacred spaces, which will support many people in their own search for spiritual understanding.
I feel right at home and in a state of complete wonderment at the same time, as I sip tea from Bhutan. There is something so undeniably genuine about this place, that one cannot help but feel a little lighter, a little more peaceful upon resting in it.
Now my curious inquiry into the matter of sacred spaces starts, a topic needing little introduction with Katiza and Sahaj for it concerns a view that rests very close to their hearts.
Is there an urge or need for you to find a sacred space, wherever you may find yourself in the world?
Katiza: Not so much an urge, but it is something that kind of spontaneously happens.
Sahaj: First thing we do when we arrive somewhere is set up an altar, especially if we know we’re going to be there for some time. If I don’t do that, there is no fire, you know?
Could you take me through those steps of creating such a space?
Sahaj: Well, in our case, what we do is just find a space in the room, ideally at the spot where we’re going to be practicing. We don’t carry many objects. Just a picture of our teacher and usually a statue of Ganesha to represent the divine, and to hold the space. We usually carry our own sacred texts wherever we go, so those are there. And incense always.
We always light a candle, as a symbol for consciousness. The picture of the Guru represents our aspiration towards coming into the completion of our teachings. And than the incense is an offering to the space and the energies in the space.
Is that important, to do such offerings? What kind of purpose does it have?
Sahaj: Believe it or not, but in any room there are many energies we can’t see. If you light the incense with the intention of an offering, while for instance reciting the prayer Om Ah Hum, then that smoke becomes an offering to the unseen beings, asking them for permission to come into that space.
Of course in the modern world people don’t see these things so much anymore, but if you’re sensitive to energies you can actually feel that very often there is something in the room. When you do, you can no longer just step into a space and do whatever you do, before asking permission in this way. And even if you’re not able to feel these energies, I guess it just comes down to a sense of trust. Even then these methods are very beneficial.
So one really has to be humble and mindful of these lingering, unseen energies?
Sahaj: Yes, it’s a good idea. I practiced in Australia for more than twenty years, and not once in that time did I ask permission from the local Aboriginal energies that are in- and of the land there. I just didn’t see that. It wasn’t until we moved to Bali, where everything is a sacred space, that I began to see and respect the unseen energies and how important they are.
Actually, It was quite arrogant of me at that time to just be practicing yoga in this beautiful piece of paradise in Australia, a place with a history of a hundred thousand years of rich spiritual local tradition, without having asked permission for it. It was an ignorance of the energy level.
Later, when my teacher Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche was consecrating a temple there, he did ask a local aboriginal mystic for his permission and blessing. I just started crying, because I knew how arrogant I had been in previous years. It was a blessing, because I got a second chance to ask.
So before we create our own sacred spaces with our own energies, we have to first remove the old energies? Is that what you’re saying?
Sahaj: No, creating sacred spaces is never about driving out negative energies. I believe that is a main misconception. It’s about seeing and acknowledging what’s there, working with it and then tuning in.
If you have the attitude to simply get rid of the bad energies in then corner of a room, it becomes much like kicking a wounded dog. Most often these bad energies are nothing more than spirits who are suffering or who have suffered in the past. Instead of smoking them out, you can actually help them by nurturing them, asking permission and creating pleasant circumstances for them, with incense and the like.
Katiza: In the Tibetan system for instance there are many methods to pacify energies and create positive energies, like singing mantras, chanting, the ringing of special bells, these kind of things.
When does a sacred space become sacred?
Katiza: I feel it has everything to do with your personal connection to consciousness. As soon as an authentic connection is there, a sacred space will manifest immediately, spontaneously.
And that could be in a variety of ways; making contact with existing entities in the space or with the physicality of it, or the environment that surrounds it. Whatever the connection to a space is, it has to start in the heart. The true sacred space is inside, for all of us, so the physical sacred space will manifest from that, naturally.
Sahaj: The outer sacred space is an unfolding of the inner sacred space. And when it unfolds in this way, people feel attracted to it; anyone who enters it will feel it. You could also say that the outer sacred space works as a support for your own sacred space inside.
Wherever we go we come across more and more people who are becoming more conscious of their spiritual nature, but we rarely find that they have a sacred space for themselves – often they don’t even treat their own home as one. So when we feel that we often try to help them to become mindful of the benefits of having a sacred space.
Do you feel, as soon as you sit down in your sacred space, for instance this home, you are immediately connected to consciousness? How does this work?
Katiza: Absolutely. It really works like charging the batteries. That’s why somehow, wherever we are in the world, the place we find ourselves automatically becomes a sacred space. It just happens like that, without knowing really. It’s a very spontaneous, natural unfolding and very beautiful.
I often think about the sacred space of Guruji (Pattabhi Jois), which was his little Puja temple, and the place where we were practicing. It was such an amazing place, full of all kinds of devotional items and almost like a physical, living prayer. Usually we think of something being beautiful if it is styled, like out of a magazine or something. But Guruji’s space was absolutely not that. It was beautiful because it came from his inner sacred space.
We were often doing yoga in his office, surrounded by all kinds of paperwork. In this way, both Guruji and Papaji showed me that if you find the sacred space inside your own self, you can be Guruji and Papaji showed me that if you find the sacred space inside your own self, you can be happy anywhere you are. So since then I know, my sacred place is where I am.
Michel: Are there certain rituals you do inside your physical sacred space? Do they hold a specific purpose?
Sahaj: Yes, there are some rituals, or offerings we do. For instance the Tibetan prayer flag is on the balcony, sending out prayers for peace and harmony according to ancient Tibetan tradition. Next to is sits our small Tibetan tsang burner, where Satya and I give the offering of smoke, early in the morning. The smoke carries the offering of peace and happiness to all beings, seen and unseen. These things are specifically put here to create kind of a temple space.
I can see there are quite a few statues in your home. Can you talk about their purpose inside this sacred space?
Sahaj: We have two statues of Ganesha; one on the door as you come in, and one here on the table. They protect and hold the space here, energetically. But actually, almost everywhere here you will find some sort of sacred object or symbol.
Katiza: These things have all come to us over the years, yet none of them are here for decoration. Sacred spaces really have nothing to do with decoration. In stead, the symbols are more of a reminder, and work as an immediate connection to what is true for us. It works very humbling.
And could it also be the other way around? For instance, if one has just begun his or her spiritual journey, can creating ones own sacred space help them to connect more deeply?
Katiza: Absolutely. We always tell our students at the beginning of the Ashtanga Yoga teacher trainings, that whatever it is they want to use as a symbol inside their own sacred space – it could be a picture of the sunset at a certain moment, or of your family, or a stone or something from nature; anything at all that connects you to your practice – if you use and honour it in this way, and you will feel how these symbols will start to work for you. They will charge your batteries.
The longer you will practice in your sacred space, the more this space will be charged with the qualities of peace and love and harmony. Then, no matter who will come into your sacred space, the baby, your mother, your uncle, the cat… they will start to relax and be at ease, automatically. It is a place where everybody will connect with something bigger than themselves. In this way we try to stimulate people to create their own sacred space.
Sahaj: Many people have lost the connection with their true selves, with their hearts. These spaces are essentially points of connecting – or reconnecting. That’s what Yoga really means; to unify, to reconnect. And it doesn’t have to be filled with pictures of Hindu gurus or Buddhas or other deities, you don’t even need any of that. Just as long as the sacred objects that are there hold a sense of support and inspiration for you, it can be anything at all.
And what about for instance temples, churches or pilgrimage points in the world. Or perhaps untouched natural environments. Would you consider them sacred spaces?
Katiza: Yes, very much so. Nature reminds you that you’re nobody, no-thing. So being and practicing in nature is much like being in the presence of a Guru. It is very easy to find a sacred space in nature, and many people on the path connect deeply with themselves there.
Sahaj: And as for temples or shrines, imagine the hundreds or sometimes even thousands of years that people have been going to such places to meditate or pray, to move more into the heart. These places hold tremendous amounts of energy, building of time and developing, seeping and permeating into the very walls and objects of such place. Having absorbed all that spiritual energy over such a period of time, the very material becomes sacred.
Katiza: Being in such places truly purifies any karmic unresolved issues you might have, accelerating the process of their burning. Also consider how these places have always been here, since the dawn of mankind. People have somehow always known that at there are certain energetic power points in this world that have the power of purification; the chakras of the Earth. It is a wisdom that we all carry. In all times, in every culture that ever existed, people always knew they had to build and come together or make pilgrimages to sacred spaces. They all had that.
Does a sacred space need to be a space of solitude? Or can it also be shared with others?
Sahaj: When you create a sacred space, it can almost never be just for you, because it really has an effect on others. When a true sacred space manifests, people somehow seem to just show up, attracted by that sacredness in inner fire that they will experience there.
That’s exactly what we’re doing now with Delight in Amsterdam. Our job, if you can say it like that, is to hold the sacred space that is Delight Yoga; the physical spaces as well as the heritage as a whole. It is about allowing it to grow into what it needs to be.
Sahaj: Our intention with Delight is more about creating sacred spaces than it is about creating a yoga school. Over time this has now been growing and developing, and these are not things you can force into completion.
Katiza: We feel that that’s the most important thing right now; humanity needs sacred spaces. Spaces where they can reconnect with their true selves. They are actually places of refuge where they can get back their breath, their connection with the body, with their own existence. And then go beyond. But in order to get there, we need those spaces.
It begins with understanding that, to be a practitioner of any spiritual practice, you have to recognise that you own body is a sacred space for health, your own mind is a sacred space for pure thinking and your own heart is a sacred space for pure speech. Without recognising these three sacred spaces first, nothing is going to happen.
That, for us, is the real sacred space. And many people are starting to understand this. So then, when they know and accept this, we can help them to cultivate these spaces, inside their own being.
Sahaj: As soon as people hit that level, and start to do the asanas to bring health to your body, meditation to pacify and purify the mind, and start coming more into their own hearts, their lives will automatically start to align. This can only be experienced, because the conceptual mind on its own cannot grasp this.
So a true sacred space starts in your heart and should be a place of refuge for all beings, including yourself.
Photography by: Michel Fijn
What is the true art of living? Sidestepping western complexity for a while, this question propelled Michel forward as he embarked on a journey that saw him drifting the world as aimlessly as a leaf in the wind. Fueled by teachings received in Japan, Tibet and India, his stories and photography are the reflections of a man in pursuit of that which is Universal about us, rather than personal.