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Lessons From the Fire

There are plenty of health food shops in the Village. For the last thirty years, only the Integral Apothecary was bustling with customers waiting to get fresh herbs, tinctures, and advice from the tall, elegant manager, Manu Dawson, who seemed to know a ton about alternative medicine - and happily gave advice.

In fact, he does. Since becoming a devotee of Swami Satchidananda decades ago, Dawson has immersed himself in studying an endless number of holistic modalities, including clinical nutrition, homeopathic medicine, detoxification methods, and Ayurvedic medicine. He also leads workshops on nutrition, exercise, and the practice of yoga to address health issues.

But that all changed last spring, when a fire ripped thru the West Village institution and it was gone. Since a camera had been installed, Dawson had the strange experience of watching his precious shop, and each carefully selected vegan product, go up in flames.

“It was eerily revealing to see exactly how it occurred and the progression of the fire,” he said. Yet, he found a spiritual aspect to the experience. “It was an indication that there are things not in our control and we have to adjust accordingly, and an opportunity to use one of the teachings of Swami Satchidananda - adapt and adjust.” he said.

And so he and the staff did just that starting the very next day. While they waited for the insurance red tape to be worked out, it was business as usual, albeit in a different location. They moved into the Integral Yoga Natural food Store across the street, where you could still find some vitamins, herbs and assorted holistic wares that hadn’t burned, while the rest was warehoused in the basement.

“It was a labor of love to run up and down the stairs with products and serve the community with the very limited space we had,” says Dawson.

Last month, he and his team had put the entire shop back together. The Apothecary still has its old world charm. When you step through the door you feel like you're in another time, with its large multi-paned picturesque window looking out onto the street; find rare and unusal products like organic Chinese and Ayurvedic herbs; or sit on a bench outside, drink your tea and watch the world go by.

Although it seems unchanged, Dawson points out that by its very nature fire changes everything. “Fire has a purifying impact on the things it touches, allowing one to start anew and rise from the ashes much like a Phoenix.”

To celebrate this reopening, Reverend Sam Rudra Swartz held a Puja ceremony. “It was our way of bringing Swami Satchidananda's energy into our hearts and consciousness, so it could receive his guidance and blessings in its new incarnation,” says Swartz. The event was attended by the staff and guests, but since the shop was open for business, customers who came in to say hello, shop, tell Dawson how glad they are that the place is back, stayed for the Puja too.

Reverend Swartz started the Puja off with three Om's and the Om Karum Prayer, made offerings, and sprinkled rose petals through out the shop. They also used a picture of Swami Satchidananda, one with a really intriguing and rather wonderful back story – it escaped the fires flames even though everything around it was burnt. And now its back where it belongs watching over the shop.

With the apothecary re-opened, Dawson and the folks at Integral have planned a host of celebratory workshops and educational events for this spring given by noted holistic healers, herbalists and nutritionists, as well as Dawson’s weekly free diet and nutrition consultation on Wednesdays from 4:30 - 6pm. Check their website for more information.

--Dar Dowling

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