Sarah was born and has lived in Sydney her whole life. She grew up in a leafy suburb on the north shore of Sydney with her mother, father, two brothers and a sister. At the age of eight, standing on the back step at home, she heard and felt a deep and profound energy and presence. It was limitless, pervading everything, entirely benevolent, loving, powerful and wise. Sarah felt a natural attraction and merging with this universal presence. She knew herself to be completely at one with the universe. This inner connection has never changed.
FORMAL PHILOSOPHY & MEDITATION STUDY
Sarah was blessed with open-minded questing parents, searching for the source of real knowledge and answers to Self-inquiry, Self-knowledge, consciousness and the Universe. In the late 1960’s her parents discovered The School of Practical Philosophy ( https://practicalphilosophy.org.au/) which offered philosophy and meditation classes. In 1971, at the age of ten, Sarah was offered the opportunity to join these classes too. She enthusiastically started learning about self-awareness, attention, presence, mindfulness and consciousness. She was undaunted by being the only child in adult classes as they discussed the great questions such as Who Am I? How can we become fully Self- Realized? What is meditation? What is the true meaning of life?
“I didn’t always understand what everyone was saying, but the connection
with presence and energy deep within myself was all that mattered to me. It made perfect sense.
I understood that the presence was enough. When I had something to say, everyone listened with such care, love and encouragement. All the adults were so kind and sweet to me.
I remember getting extra biscuits at the tea break!”
All of the study, discussion and practice was underpinned with meditation practice. Sarah was formally introduced to transcendental mantra meditation at the age of eleven.
“Meditation made everything make sense. It didn’t matter what was happening, and the teenage years are always perplexing, but it was meditation and a deep inner connection to presence that let all the confusion, embarrassment and awkwardness of being a teenager wash away. I often wondered what people did if they didn’t have meditation.”
As Sarah grew, she began to have a greater understanding of the conversations at the School of Practical Philosophy, and she participated more and more. She relished the discussions and questioning, and the opportunity to share and learn from direct experiences of self-awareness and presence.
The Three-fold Course:
The Three-fold course offered in the School of Practical Philosophy was developed by Leon MacLaren (1910-1994) http://maclarenfoundation.net, the founder of the practical philosophy schools worldwide. It brought together the great wisdom traditions of east and west.
Leon MacLaren derived the course from the triple Fire of Nachiketas (Katha Upanishad 1.1.12-1.1.19) consisting of: Knowledge, Meditation and Practice. Sarah learnt and studied the great wisdom and knowledge from the east and west, she meditated, and she practised. The whole point was to clear the mind and heart of limits in order to raise consciousness and awareness; thus naturally revealing in direct experience, the truth that there is no difference between the apparent individual self and the limitless Universal Self, they are one and the same, this is full Self-Realisation. Sarah had all three – Knowledge, Meditation and Practice – beautifully and finely presented with love and reason for decades. It was inspiring and transformational, it felt as if everyone engaged in this study and work was part of a wave of deepening consciousness around the world. They were seeking to understand the truth of how the universe really worked, and to uncover a natural way of living for themselves and for everyone else who wanted it. This path was paved with attention, intelligence, love, sacrifice, humility, discipline, courage and resilience.
“One evening I was at a large meeting with Leon MacLaren. His opening statement was ‘There’s nowhere to go, there’s nothing to do, there’s nothing to be; you are yourself and all you need to do is realise it.’ At that moment, I knew the truth of that statement without question; so powerful!”
The wealth and richness of the study in The School of Practical Philosophy was profound. The curriculum included:
- Eastern wisdom:
- The Upanishads
- The Bhagavad Gita
- Panini (a great Sanskrit scholar from the 4th century BC)
- Vasishta’s Seven Levels of Transformation
- Advaita Vedanta – non dual philosophy – as expounded through direct conversations with Leon MacLaren and Shri Shāntānanda Saraswatī 1913-1997; Shankarāchārya of Jyotir Math)
- Adi Shankara (the original teacher of the Shankarāchārya tradition)
- The causal, subtle and physical worlds
- And many other topics
- Western knowledge:
- Socrates in the ‘Dialogues of Plato’ and the study of Dialectic etc
- Ficino and the Florentine Renaissance
- The Bible
- Georges Gurdjieff (1866? -1949; mystic, philosopher of The Fourth Way)
- D. Ouspensky (1878-1947; esotericist, mathematician, philosopher; student of Gurdjieff)
- Music, Art, Architecture, Mathematics, Geometry, Proportion, etc:
- Music of the great composers e.g. Mozart, Vivaldi and Gabrielli etc
- The Natural Octave
- The Enneagram
- Art from the masters e.g. Leonardo di Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli etc
- Vedic Mathematics
- Geometry: the point, line and circle; geometry in nature etc
- Proportions of the Golden Mean
- Architecture of Florence, Ancient Greece etc
- Education from universal principles:
- The Teacher: the proper nature and qualifications of a teacher
- The Pupil: The nature and stages of development of a pupil
- What to teach, how to teach it, when to teach it
- Fine handwork; students engaged in the practice of a wide range of handwork:
- Lace making, crochet, embroidery, tapestry etc
- Woodwork: carpentry, wood turning and carving etc
- Calligraphy, illuminated manuscripts (illuminating and illustrating scriptural passages) etc
“All the study was absolutely wonderful. It was always presented in such a fine way; I learnt how to give my attention and I loved that. I especially adored anything to do with music. We spent a lot of time exploring and discovering the intervals in the Natural Octave through singing; I never wanted those singing sessions to end. Also, Vedic Mathematics was so much fun. I didn’t find maths at school so interesting or easy to learn, but Vedic Maths just made sense; I could follow it and I always looked forward to the sessions. My father taught some of these sessions and he was hilarious as he found creative ways to explain how to do the maths questions.”
The first thing introduced to students in their first philosophy class, was the simple practice of connecting with the senses and expanding the awareness in the present moment for a few minutes.
The next practice was to stop for a moment of stillness, presence and self-connection at the beginning and end of each activity. This brief pause for stillness and awareness was practiced throughout the day, every day.
Transcendental mantra meditation was offered to all students after a few terms. This Meditation was practiced for thirty minutes, twice a day.
Everything we studied and did in the School of Practical Philosophy was designed to train us to give full attention to the task in hand and let everything else go – thoughts, ideas, preconceptions, likes, dislikes; everything that arose in the mind was allowed to come and pass as the attention continued to rest with the task.
Another principle that governed all knowledge and discussion was to neither accept or reject anything that we heard but to test it out in our own direct experience; only then would we truly know anything for ourselves. This emphasis on reason and direct experience was an essential element. To this end, there was plenty of practical application of these universal principles. This included physical work such as gardening, cleaning, sewing, singing, calligraphy, flower arranging, woodwork, catering etc.
Sarah learnt how to approach any task with love, care and attention, to work harmoniously with fellow students, and to respect the tools and equipment for the task. Personal limits were surrendered when they arose in the mind as everyone worked together. This engendered a natural love of service and care without the limiting thoughts of personal benefit. Paradoxically this selflessness was a doorway to tremendous personal benefit! It was about mindfulness, attention and presence, and giving to the task what was fully required. This was how Sarah was trained, for nearly four decades, to approach any task.
“The practice sessions were an important part of the work. Sometimes it was quite challenging and other times a relief to do something simple and practical with your hands. In the end neither mattered, the important thing was to keep giving full attention regardless of the ease or difficulty of the task. It’s the best way of calming the chattering mind and discovering true indifference, which doesn’t mean a lack of care. It means indifference to the outcome; no claim to the results of the work either internally or outwardly.”
This simple, consistent and persistent practice is where the rubber meets the road in spiritual work. Everyone was encouraged to take the knowledge into their daily lives and apply it in practice. The students would all share their practical experiences from the week. This sharing greatly deepened and established the knowledge and presence within everyone.
One of the principles of transformation is to decide what you want and then practice that. Frequent and regular practice is the key.
“I found practising that which I felt I lacked e.g. patience, was a simple and straight forward approach. Shakespeare was a great aide memoire: ‘Assume a virtue if you have it not.’ (Hamlet). If I wanted to be patient, then I realised I needed to practise patience. It presented challenges and problem-solving opportunities about the times I lost patience, the triggers, and how to stay mindful and not lose awareness. After a while it became easier, almost without noticing that there had been a change. The important thing I found was to approach each moment freshly, as if for the first time; every moment is an opportunity. Becoming complacent was a big trap; staying awake, aware and conscious was key.”
Sarah also spent many years tutoring weekly adult philosophy and meditation classes and local and interstate residential seminars and workshops.
During this time, she met her husband Gilbert, a lawyer by day, and a keen fellow student of philosophy and meditation. They married in 1986.
The word ‘Sanskrit’ means “well or completely formed; perfected; purified”. Sanskrit formed a core subject in the study program over the years. This is because the sound of Sanskrit is naturally purifying, it clears the mind and nourishes the heart. The Devanagari script is beautiful and requires close attention and fine motor skills to be written accurately and beautifully.
The study of Sanskrit, as with any classical language, is mentally stimulating and opens creative neural pathways. Also, it is the language of the knowledge and wisdom traditions such as The Upanishads, The Bhagavad Gita, Advaita Vedanta etc.
The deepest reason however, is that Sanskrit is the natural language of the Universe. If we can get past the superficial chatter in our monkey mind, and listen deeply not so much with our ears but with our heart, then Sanskrit can help us hear what the Universe is always trying to tell us. We can directly experience true meaning and get beyond intellectual concepts.
Reflection Practice – a glorious confluence of Sanskrit and philosophy
We used Sanskrit to purify the mind and heart and to deepen our experience with a technique which was called ‘Reflection’. This reflection practice consisted of sitting in a chair with closed eyes, listening to a silent inward repetition of a Sanskrit statement (a sutra). The practice of reflecting on Sanskrit sutras became an essential part of the refinement and development in the philosophical studies; it combined the study of Sanskrit and practical philosophy.
The purity of the Sanskrit sutras allowed for direct experience of the truth in the sutra and it could also highlight any habitual limiting self-beliefs; both experiences were possible. Spiritual maturity was developed through experiencing and acknowledging both the blissful and the challenging, and surrendering both. This was key. This was how the mind and heart were cleared, and reason developed.
“Reflection practice was always done with great care, refinement and precision. One of my favourite sutras was: Ayam Ātmā Brahma ‘This individual self (Ātman) is the Universal Self (Brahman)’. One day in reflection, all personal limits fell away and I felt entirely free, universal and at one with everything. It was immediate, simple and obvious; how could anyone miss this!
On another occasion I became aware of habitual limiting thinking patterns about myself; not always a comfortable thing to experience. In both cases, the discipline of releasing any claim on the experience brought freedom. Often letting go of blissful experiences was a greater challenge!”
“Another of my favourite Sanskrit prayers was:
Sarve bhavantu sukhinah May All Be Happy
Sarve santu nirāmayah May All Be Without Disease (dis-ease)
Sarve bhadrāņi paṡyantu May All See Good Things
Mā kaṡchid duh khabhāg bhavet None Be in Misery of Any Sort
How’s that for a timeless universal statement of good-will and wellbeing for all!”
SANSKRIT AT UNIVERSITY
A natural development of Sarah’s years of Sanskrit study within her philosophy and meditation groups, was to take those studies further at university by enrolling in the Sanskrit faculty of The University of Sydney. She graduated with a BA majoring in Sanskrit and Indology; she also studied Latin and Linguistics.
This study of Sanskrit in a different context opened up an even broader appreciation for the pre-eminence of Sanskrit. It was a constant source of fresh inspiration and enthusiasm week after week throughout her three-year course.
She was blessed with an outstanding teacher, Dr Michael Comans, who was able to elucidate further meanings in the texts through his own spiritual work. Studying the grammatical system of Sanskrit in depth was an exciting challenge which left Sarah convinced of its importance in proper education, as it is the root Indo-European language from which English, Greek, Latin, and many other languages are derived.
Sarah graduated in the top 10% of her year and was invited to join the International organisation: The Golden Key International Honour Society ( https://www.goldenkey.org/).
The next exciting and challenging chapter in her life was being part of the founding team of teachers who, in 1985, started John Colet School – a children’s school based on philosophical principles. (https://www.johncolet.nsw.edu.au/)
All the teachers, which included her husband who had accepted an offer to be the founding headmaster, were students studying and practising practical philosophy and meditation. These teachers and parents with young children had all discovered the life-changing power of self- awareness, meditation and attention. These spiritual principles were presented simply to the children at John Colet – so they didn’t have to wait until they were adults! Teaching and working at the children’s school for its growth, development and success was a natural extension and expansion of all the years of knowledge, meditation and personal practice.
The precept expounded in the Upanishads is ‘svadhyāya pravachane – Learn and Teach’. The children’s school was a natural and perfect vehicle for this to happen. Sarah, and the other teachers and many of the parents, continued to study practical philosophy and meditation in the evening and on weekends, whilst teaching during the week.
The principles of the school were simple: Give the children the finest food for body, mind, heart and spirit. Stop when the child has had enough. Let the children be in the best company – people, thoughts, emotions and actions. The teachers were under the discipline of being ‘the same inside and outside’ so this meant never asking a child to do something which the teacher didn’t do first. The bar was set very high for the teachers. A key practice as a matter of discipline for teachers, was to see each child every day as the Supreme Self.
The core curriculum for all the children included a weekly philosophy lesson, Sanskrit, an annual Shakespeare Festival, choral singing, Scripture, daily mindfulness practice and thorough teaching of the 3 R’s as well as sport, dance, science, history, Latin and French. Meditation was offered to children from the age of 10.
Much of what was seen as unusual when the school started, is now part of the school’s impressive reputation as ‘cutting-edge’. Society in general is now seeing the need for both a rigorous curriculum, as well as mindfulness, attention, peace and proper inquiry.
One of the challenges for the teachers was to find enjoyable ways of presenting everything to the children in a way that suited a child’s nature and stage of development; otherwise it could all be very serious and heavy. The teachers got better at this; at making it fun. Teaching the children this way, showed the adults how to keep things light, simple and natural!
The Core Values of John Colet School are: Stillness, Truthfulness, Courage, Service, Respect.
“One day a group of 11 year old girls came to my room during their morning recess playtime. Their spokeswoman said, ‘Mrs Mane, we’ve had an argument and we’ve gone through the conflict resolution sequence, but we can’t decide what we should do to finally resolve the problem. We realised we needed an adult to help us make this decision.’ I had very little to do except listen and then suggest what seemed to be the most reasonable course of action. They agreed, and everyone was happy. They went off to continue their game.
To see the day to day application of the school’s values with love and reason by the children themselves, was inspiring and humbling.”
Achievements at John Colet School
Sarah’s role at John Colet School was broad and varied. She was a class teacher – responsible for delivering the core curriculum to her own class every day; a specialist teacher of choral singing – Sarah started, and developed the widely respected and award winning choral singing program, conducting many choirs throughout the years; a Sanskrit teacher – Sarah introduced the Sanskrit syllabus to the school, which also involved training the teachers so they could teach their own students; Sarah coordinated the development of the Gifted and Talented Extension program, which included arranging professional development for teachers and she presented some of this PD herself on topics such as De Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats and Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences.
Sarah was a member of the school’s Executive Committee which managed the running of the school. Sarah’s management role extended to developing and supervising all aspects of the school’s administration; a challenging and dynamic aspect of a growing school. Sarah was also Deputy Head of School for a time, which in addition to all her other roles, involved supervising student standards of behaviour and discipline.
John Colet School continues to grow and flourish. It is a fully established, highly respected and very successful primary school for children aged 5 – 12 years old. It is consistently ranked for its academic performance in the top 10 out of 7600 primary schools in Australia.
Sarah and her husband retired from the school in 2015.
“John Colet School was and is remarkable. It presented opportunities, challenges and huge rewards and success that no one could have imagined when it started. The good will, dedication, intelligence, love and esprit de corps amongst the staff kept us all going, and I will never forget it. We all shared the same principles, values and vision. The children and parents were wonderful. They certainly kept us on our toes! They taught me so much every day. It’s beautiful to see a young adult that has had Shakespeare, Sanskrit, Philosophy, meditation and rigorous academic work using this as a foundation for their life as they grow up. I’ve had ex-students of mine walk up to me in the street with a big smile and their arms spread wide and give me a huge hug, and I was just their primary school teacher. That’s so lovely.”
Whilst still working at John Colet School, Sarah was approached by Barrenjoey Montessori School (BMS) to join their Board of Directors (http://www.barrenjoeymontessori.com.au/ ). The school was very successful offering a high-quality Montessori program for 0-6 year olds. Its goal was to grow and expand its program through to 9 year olds.
They admired John Colet School for how it was growing and yet still strongly maintaining its ethos, values and standards. BMS wanted this input on the Board. Sarah provided a crucial contribution to the school for several years as it took these courageous and challenging steps. BMS continues to grow and flourish and is now in the process of developing further to offer a 9-12 year old program.
“I didn’t really know much about the Montessori system, but when I sat in the 3 – 6 year old room for a two hour observation morning, I was blown away by their focus, care and prolonged attention to their tasks. I had no hesitation in being part of this school providing such excellent education. I was keen to offer whatever assistance I could. Being a member of the BMS Board was a privilege; it was an opportunity to work with a group highly talented and dedicated people who shared the same vision for providing transformative education to children.”
LEAVING THE SCHOOL OF PRACTICAL PHILOSOPHY
In 2007, whilst still working at the children’s school, Sarah ceased to attend The School of Practical Philosophy. It was time let go of this phase of learning, studying and tutoring that had begun when she was ten years old. Sarah found her own spiritual path led her to follow a direction and expansion beyond the philosophy and meditation classes she had attended, participated in and taught for many decades. Transitioning from this formalised and structured study, practice and teaching of philosophy, meditation and Sanskrit was the natural next step. It was time to let the expansion continue from within.
She has profound love and gratitude for all that she received and experienced from the students and teachers.
Since embarking on the next phase, the spiritual world and experience expanded 360° in ways that Sarah couldn’t have imagined was possible.
“I felt an inner prompting to follow what was unfolding within myself. The transition from The School of Practical Philosophy was easy and natural but required courage, as studying and practicing within the organisation was all I had known since the age of ten. I knew I had to take full responsibility for my own spiritual journey and ‘stand on my own two feet’. I felt I had returned to a deep and intimate connection within that started when I was eight years old standing on the back step at home”.
In 2008 – 2009 Sarah completed rigorous courses in Executive and Life Coaching and Business Management at The Life Coaching Academy (https://www.lifecoachingacademy.edu.au/). Sarah is a member of the International Coach Federation (https://coachfederation.org/).
Learning and employing good coaching skills has been a natural and highly valuable addition to her extensive teaching and tutoring experience. Sarah started her own coaching practice and has thoroughly enjoyed working with highly successful executives and motivated clients in Sydney. Her coaching work has included helping clients to discover their core values, goals, purpose and passion, and action planning; all of her work as a coach has naturally arisen out of her decades of spiritual study and practice; it has shown Sarah what is truly important to everyone – Self-connection, Self-awareness, Self-knowledge, Self-Realisation, mindfulness, attention and effective action.
As a natural extension of her coaching practice Sarah has often been called upon to present key-note speeches and workshops on a wide range of topics such as: Mindfulness and Self Development; The Power of Storytelling; No Man is an Island – an investigation into the core relationships in our lives; The Power of Goal Setting and Attitude; Wake Up and Get Out of B.E.D! (Blame, Excuses and Denial).
BEYOND PERSONAL COACHING – a new global offering
The extensive knowledge and experience in which Sarah has been so thoroughly trained since the age of ten, informs her whole life; her beliefs, her understanding; her actions. Sarah has discovered that the ancient knowledge of the east and west contains a timeless wisdom that is available to everyone at all times, it is just as relevant now as it was thousands of years ago; a truly Universal Timeless Wisdom.
Sarah is now bringing all her experience and knowledge to a new practical program called Conscious Confidence. It is an easy, simple and practical and is derived from her Sanskrit studies. I works directly through consciousness to raise Self-awareness, increase Self-knowledge and engender inner strength and confidence; essential to giving full expression to everyone’s potential.