A CITY OF MINDFULNESS. On best locations for meditation in Riga.

Today the World Meditation Day is celebrated across the globe. Latvia, although unawares, has been able to keep more places than necessary for people to look into themselves without interruption or distraction. Extra low population density, a paradise for forest bathing, introvert people that give you a break, and even urban areas with space enough for all bodies and minds - it all and more makes Latvia and Riga perfect for seeking mindfulness. Here are our extraordinary, yet painfully selected picks PLUS a very unique music recording first-listen for pro or occasional yogis looking for something else rather than sitting by the foot of a tree.
The first solid fundaments related to buddhist culture in Riga begin with its first temple being opened in Āgenskalns neighbourhood when in 1924 it was done in a shared house by Kārlis Tenisons (1873 - 1962). Because of his connections with Dalailama, it's said that the first Buddha priest in Latvia Mr. Tenisons also helped with the construction of the Datsan Gunzechoinei - an impressive temple in St. Petersburg fifteen years earlier. Sadly the revolution came soon in 1917, thus announcing every thing related to religion - inconvenient. Kārlis Tenisons needed to flee soon after, and he spend a handful of years in India, when, as he declares, living in a cave he met an English traveler in 1923 (further on many things about his past were unclear, thus rousing doubt in people about his mission). There the English enlighened him with the news of Latvian Independence that drove Mr. Tenisons to Riga.

"1st Buddha priest in the Baltic states, Kārlis Tennisons (his spiritual name VAHINDRA) - the famous barefoot and a member of Tibet's mendicant monk order "Sangha". Latvian by his nationalty and citizenship". A. Jurich, 1920's.

Although Buddhism was known to the society in Latvia already (several writings were published around the province as well as the renowned Russian painter Nicholas Roerich had a strong connection during his life with Latvia), the people did not take Mr. Tenisons seriously. He didn't really succeeded in publishing any solid material on the thought, and soon became a part of tabloids and a subject of satire. In 1927 he moved to Estonia (where at the border with Latvia he was actually born), and then with a few fellow travellers started his way through Europe to through Southeast Asia finishing in Myanmar, where he died as an adored person finally. it lead to Mr. Tenisons being more known in Estonia rather than Latvia, that leads us here.

FOREST
Nearly 50 % of Latvia's territory is covered in trees. For us the forests are of a great value, yet only in recent years entrepreneurs have found ways how to use their resources for recreation purposes in a way that it brings profit. Starting from glamping facilities for people to stay in remote, lush and fairy tale-like locations for digital detoxification, ending with organized and extraordinary hikes at night, with mushroom and berry picking as a meditation, or, eventually, forest bathing. No wonder why Latvia faces growth of Japanese tourists particularly in recent years. Heard that we have a swell green blanket as well as impressive tolerance towards personal space, the founders of scientific forest bathing for almost 40 years already, the Japanese (as well as South Koreans) will eventually be driven to Latvia in larger numbers in near future. For sure - we can't compete with Canadians when speaking about vastness of woods. Yet we also don't have grizzly bears squatting behind every pine tree.



Despite degrading value and lack of municipal policy of trees being planted and preserved in central Riga, the capital of Latvia still holds large areas with maintained, untouched and uncivilized forest space. More than 30 % of Riga's territory are of natural origin, of whom 15 % consist of several large, mostly pine forests. Of course, despite hundreds of other great spots, there is one of the most promising areas today - the Mangaļi seashore park, offering another dune related wood area with remains of the Imperial Russian plus Soviet military defence bunkers. But down below are a handful of spacious and less-urbanized suggestions from us for an occasional off-the-grid-yet-easy-to-reach walk, relaxing saunter, or the good old forest bathing.

BOLDERĀJAS KĀPA
An extremely massive dune area with a clean-cut, mostly pine forest and slightly bumpy terrain is located in the North-West of Riga. Pinpointed on the map by Bumbukalniņš or the "Mine Hill", this site of historical battles during WWI with its all-wood sightseeing platform is a convenient place where to begin exploring the Bolderāja dune.



ŠMERĻA MEŽS
Another spacious territory with many beaten paths and tracks that might lead you to small swamp areas, scrubby clusters or larger, sandy strolling paths. Despite several active motor roads nearby, their visible and audible presence vanishes in a few hundred meters. The final destination to many trolley buses called "Šmerlis" is a great location for both start exploring the given forest or entering other nearby woods, e.g. Biķernieku forest or Bābelītis lake (mentioned later in the text). For a long-haul walk we suggest go the same direction, but further and stop at Animal shelter "Ulubele". This is where the enormous Juglas forest begins.



WATER
Similarly to trees, water areas cover up 15 % of Riga as well. Most of the space is occupied by the river Daugava and several large lakes one can easily reach. Without a question, the Baltic Sea shore is an essential part to what Riga has become today and why many actually visit it, too (for that we recommend a train stop right on the border of the city called Kalngale). CAPITAL R though has a few other very local and extraordinary suggestions up the sleeve though. If you are still interested in some off-the-grid spots around the famous lakes, rivers and sea, drop us a message or comment!

C-D DAMBIS
Let's not waste much of the time and get down to our most exotic suggestion - the C-D dam. For many the most famous, as well as the only renovated and accessible river barrier still serving its original purpose is the A-B dam. Located right opposite the Old Town and across the Akmens bridge, it brings hundreds of thousands of people for sightseeing, running, leisure activities, and contemporary art. The next one, the C-D dam down the river is located by another Vanšu or "suspension" bridge to shelter the first man-made Ķīpsala public beach by the river Daugava.


Although the C-D dam is not marked as publicly available and sometimes doesn't even appear on maps (also its reconstruction and maintenance is unsuccessfully delayed for several years), this very exotic location is the most exclusive for panorama hunters and loners, when the water level drops for at least a half meter. After the climate change has kicked in the recent years - it happens quite often now. Still widely unrecognised as a spot to visit even by locals (maybe due to the myth that it's forbidden, although there are no warning signs and all), the C-D dam is a slight 500m-long dexterity training that leads to, probably, the least visited spot in Riga, with a great view to the silhouette of Old Town. Grab a wind shell with you, and it will also become a heavenly good location for meditating.



BĀBELĪTIS
A little lake located in the East out of the city centre. Able to be reached the same way as Šmerlis forest, Bābelītis is one of those little spots that bring back some sentimental pictures from the thirties - a lake with sun-drenched, thin pined, and slightly rugged terrain around it. It even resembles another nature landmark set West to Berlin and named ridiculously similar - Babelsberg with its nearby Volkspark Klein Glienicke next to Tiefel See and Havel waterfronts. Despite the lack of pre-WWII architecture, Bābelītis can be quite the same time-machine very often, especially during summertime, when it also gets quite busy (too busy). While strolling, one can also come across the bits and pieces left of an old secret electric plant built there in the thirties. Sadly I got torn down (and out) almost entirely few years back.



SPACE
Riga owns many wondrous public parks, squares and gardens that are both well maintained and - also forgotten; it's the hardest part to mention all those special ones, but we need to start somewhere. One of them can be the Latvian University Botanical Garden; it's not a jaw breaker, but is beautiful enough, although fairly often visited to be anything extraordinary spiritual. Also The Ethnographic Open-Air Museum of Latvia or Mežaparks (the first forest town in Europe) both fall into this category. Located further in the North and East from the centre respectively, either are very popular among residents and also visitors. CAPITAL R are into suggesting something of similar purpose, yet at the same time - something completely different.

BRĀĻU KAPI
One of the country's most impressive ensembles of urban planning and monumental architecture is the Riga Brethren Cemetery. Dedicated to all Latvian defenders during WWI, the space soon became one of the most important burial locations to Latvian identity. Now it's only visited few and far between, and the ensemble around its geometric centre, the eternal flame, is a good place to have a calm walk. The exclusive part kicks in when visiting it at night! Sounds quite fishy, but, by being open 24/7 it has accumulated a very soothing atmosphere and the ensemble owns visually impressive looks during the darkest hours! For a more civilized approach one can visit Meža & Raiņa kapi - cemeteries for most of the big names in Latvian history and present (both also popular among visitors though).



LIELIE KAPI
Although the Great Cemetery is another graveyard (technically, the oldest in Riga), most of this 250-ish year-old Latvian analogue of London's “Magnificent Seven” historic cemeteries has been non-functional for more than 60 years. After WWII the area was vandalized, pillaged, and then closed for undertaking business. After the 1960's it was slowly turned into a memorial nature park / ensemble along with further plundering (tombstones and other materials were stolen even for domestic necessities) and destruction of the park's value due to political decisions and urban "solutions". Now, very known among the locals as a slowly resurrecting area, the Great Cemetery still has enough curious space for everybody. PS. If spending time in a long-gone graveyard still makes someone slightly uncomfortable or concerned if the place has anything to do with mindfulness - they ought to enlighten themselves with the concept of "meditation on the corpse".



CITY
When it comes down to buildings and streets, there are plenty enough abandoned structures or remote neighbourhoods, where a ten to fifteen minute pause or slow saunter seems nothing particular. Like many large cities, it's only normal for Riga to have uncountable ways for flâneurs to meditate on the society and the urban matter. One can begin with the old Āgenskalns residential or Lucavsala allotment neighbourhoods. Then the centuries old Daugavgrīva fortress as the only military fortification in Riga open on weekends (Although a quite visited landmark, the area is large enough for you to find those a dozen minutes of inner peace). Also The Academy of Sciences, despite being one of the most known and distinguishable landmarks in Riga, is still being relatively seldom visited (we have covered its turbulent past here already!). Open everyday for one of the best panorama views on the city, it also allows for the gaze to be lost over the horizon.

But when it comes to cities again, it's even more interesting to find a landmark of peace (and also aesthetics) where you wouldn't normally look for. Here are two reasonable, very known but, at the same time, very well furnished spots for urban minds to relax and flow with the contemporary environment.

LATVIJAS NACIONĀLĀ BIBLIOTĒKA
For more than two years, the enormous building of The National Library of Latvia houses a meditation room on the 4th floor. Whenever tired of learning, reading, researching or simply coming in from outdoors, the meditation room can serve as a solace to all weary. Open everyday (Mon - Fri 9.00–20.00; Sat - Sun 10.00–17.00) its free for everyone to relax on their daily basis, as well as to attend thematic events on all spiritual matters every Wednesday.



LATVIJAS NACIONĀLĀ OPERA UN BALETS
Believe it or not, but the square of one of the most central buildings in Riga, the Opera and Ballet house, is a very convenient and effective site of urban meditation, especially if you are over your beginners level. We already covered this special energy the place can give in only 5-minutes time in our earlier posts, and nothing has changed. Despite being relatively busy, the square has this very tranquil atmosphere, and it seems that many presume it as a place to cross, not a place where one can hang around (other than for "special" ocasions). It leads to a sort of meditative flow of people, going or riding somewhere, who knows where, and minding their own business. The hurry is always moderate, making the square with the opera and ballet house a real-time documentary. Relax your gaze, and the city will unravel itself.



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THE ALBUM
To celebrate the World Meditation day with a special contribution in realms yet to be unexplored, a brand new ambient concept album called "latvian OM" has just been released. Created exclusively for CAPITAL R and this article, it captures heavilly reworked pieces and fragments by several famous Latvian academic composers using Paulstretch plug-in. This is a brand new present from the locals to those, who find it easier to meditate over background sound.

Let us begin with our favourite "om7", from where you can click on the album's link for all songs. The whole material is downloadable and creative commons. For any other than personal use, we kindly ask to inform us.



Whether with help of this soundtrack or without - one can train enough to meditate even in a crowded supermarket. But if you don't have any desire to be a yogi superhero, why making things extra difficult? Everybody can begin their extraordinary trip into Riga's urban mindfulness with the suggestions mentioned in this article. After all, we hope that with "latvian OM" in headphones, it is possible to drift through streets everywhere around the world.

Still, are you looking for something else rather less exotic or closer to home? Or maybe where you need to find a boat, or know a key code to a superb roof, or else? It saddens us to admit that Riga does not promote other areas and alternative habits for any purpose outside the landscapes of wealth and power, even if they are easily reachable. The tourist nests, so to say. Don't hesitate then to write your questions to us in comments here, on Facebook, or via email, and we will try to suggest some good place for a good self-exploration time! May the force be with you!

MORE INFO
Find: Riga Diamond Way Buddhist Meditation Center of the Karma Kagyu Lineage. This is the oldest functioning Centre in Latvia for the Buddhist community gathering together for 22 years and occupying their beautiful 100+ year old house for more than 15. One can visit the centre for wisdom every day, otherwise it's open for daily meditation at 20:00 or introduction lectures at 19:00 on Tuesdays.
Listen: for Latvian language learners and speakers there is a local alternative to "Headspace" or "Calm" apps called - "Miervidi". Available on both Google Play and iStore, most of the material and sessions are reasonable quality and free of charge.
Read: Thich Nhat Hanh's "The Miracle of Mindfulness" will be a good starter. Otherwise, indulge into the most awaited selection of Koans.
What else: if you are interested in visiting a special place outside of Riga, the Latvian Peace Pagoda would be a must see. Located South-West of the capital it's only 45 minutes drive away.

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