My Month in an Ashram

I wasn’t planning on this happening, but apparently The Universe had something in mind for me, and It cleared the path.  I was in Virginia, trying to get The BhakTee Life into some festivals for the month of July as a vendor, but no matter how hard I tried, this wasn’t just a closed door, it was slammed shut.  Needless to say, I was frustrated, and wondering what this was all about.

Yogaville had been on my radar for years, but I wasn’t intentionally thinking about it, especially as I do not live in Virginia.  Now here I was, staying with friends in Virginia, and I discovered that Yogaville was only two hours away.  I thought the drive would help unwind my mind, so I went to visit for an afternoon.  This was on Wednesday, the last week of June.  When I got there, I was told that there was a new month long Living Yoga Training program (LYT) starting the following Monday, on July 1st.  What the heck?  I didn't have anything going on for the month.  (Thank you Universe!)  Sign me up!  Admittedly there was a part of me that was wondering what I was doing, but then the Sagittarian in me said, “It’s only one month of your life.  What are you waiting for?”  I had been wanting to know what it would be like to live in an ashram.

And so it began, a month of rising early for 5 AM meditations, with other meditations throughout the day, daily Hatha Yoga classes, Yoga Philosophy Classes and Interfaith Talks, weekly Satsangs, and 21 hours of Karma Yoga (service) per week.  I washed, peeled, and chopped thousands of vegetables, pulled up hundreds of weeds, helped to plant rows of eggplant, and yes, I scrubbed many toilets, and vacuumed and washed floors.  At one point I privately likened it to Yoga Boot Camp.

There were nine other women in my LYT group, and because it was all so new to us, that first week we were excited and eager to please, to do everything right, and get into the groove.  The second week we were all feeling pretty pleased with ourselves, as we tackled our jobs, got into the flow of the meditations, did our reading, and we even managed to have some fun by kayaking, hiking, and participating in things like a Medicine Wheel, which was coordinated by one of our wonderful mentors, Dhyani.  She also took a few of us to a Wolf Preserve, where I fell in love with Noah, a year old wolf pup.

 

And then week three started, and as one of the young college girls said, “That’s when the baggage showed up.” That awful baggage that follows you no matter where you go!  Your story you tell yourself, your history, your thoughts, your worries, - every bit of it found its way into the ashram, plopped itself down in front of each of us, and said, “Did you really think you could run away from me?” 

Not only did our baggage show up, but it showed up in spades, and now we didn’t have the distractions of the outside world.  I nearly spit my cereal out one morning when one of my fellow LYT’s leaned over and whispered, “Is it okay if some of these people are starting to annoy me?”  I laughed!  Yes, it’s okay, because we are HUMAN!  Some people think that just because you are on the spiritual path you are somehow supposed to be above the human condition, and you don’t have those thoughts any more, and if you do, you are somehow bad, or not spiritual enough.  Satchidananda, (who founded Yogaville,) and the other masters might have transcended the foibles of being human, but the rest of us poor folks are still works in progress, and very much still quirky with our “humanness.” 

What is on the outside of an ashram, is on the inside of an ashram.  There is no escaping the human condition, but in an ashram you are learning, and/or re-honing, tools to help better yourself, and your reactions and responses.  With that comes the expectation of compassion for others, and for yourself, and not just a once in awhile thing, but as a daily practice.  My own issues came barging through the door, wrapped their arms tight around me, and said, “We’re here!”  I was not happy to see them.  I was yearning for some kind of enlightened experience, a flash of exquisite insight, a Divine revelation.  That wasn’t happening.  I was struggling with my meditations, I was tired all of the time from the early mornings and long days, and far from feeling “special” in any way, I felt invisible.  I had my outside persona, and then there was my inside persona, and she was feeling very much alone, and a little confused. 

So I tried silence.  I didn't start until late into the program, but I observed silence as much as I could without disrupting the rules of being able to do my karma yoga, some of which required communication.  I liked it.  I liked it a lot and wished I had started it sooner.  In the silence I found that I could embrace the Invisible Me and love her.  I found a wonderful freedom in the silence.  It was an unexpected gift that fell gently into my Being at lunch one day.  I was suddenly very aware of the noise around me from the other ashramites, and I was blissfully silent, with no expectation to converse with anyone.  I didn’t have to pretend to be anyone, or anything.  

Each of us wore our issues inside and outside, some more visible than others, and by the end of week three, one of the women left.  With only a half week left to go, another one bailed out.  I felt a bit sad when I found out they left.  Not so much because I had made any great connection with either of them, or the fact that they left without saying good-bye, but more because I felt they had cheated themselves.  Why come to an ashram if you don’t want to do some serious work on yourself, for yourself?  And there lies the crux of it.  Maybe this was something I needed, and maybe they needed to do something else.  Who was I to judge why they came and then left?  They were honoring their personal needs, and I could best serve them, and show respect and compassion in their choices by honoring their need to leave.  Me, on the other hand, I needed the discipline of these rigorous days.  Towards the end I found that I actually thrived in the discipline.  I asked myself periodically if I would like to stay and become a permanent ashramite, but the answer always came back as, “Not now, but maybe one day.” 

I still have other things that I need to work on and accomplish, but my time at Yogaville is now very much a part of me.  So much for thinking this was “only one month of my life!”  It is in me now.  I am utterly grateful for the opportunity to have been there.  I am grateful for the yogis and swamis who worked with us, and answered our unending questions, and to Bharati, who is exceptional at her job of taking care of the LYT's.  I often miss it, and I miss the friends that I made. I miss the meditative environment, and the community of like minded people.  There are some very wise people residing there, and I would like to know them better, and I would like to understand who Satchinananda was in a more comprehensive way.  I have several of his books now, and I will continue to read them, and to explore his teachings, which are profoundly expressed in his statement, “Truth is One, Paths are Many.”  This resonates with me, especially as I try to live The BhakTee Life, as I do not want to tell people what to believe, but to follow their own Inner Guru that is constantly whispering encouragement to them, to follow their inner guidance, to help others, and to help raise the consciousness of the Planet.  On some level I think most people want to be “special” in some way, or to feel important, but wisdom does come with age, and I have learned that the most important thing we can do is to show compassion and kindness to each other, and to serve in selfless ways.  When all is said and done, and on that day when I am standing at the Pearly Gates, I hope to have some good answers to the questions, “Were you kind?” And, “What did you do to help your fellow human beings?” 

These are questions we should be asking ourselves every day. 

Om Shanti.  


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