What I Learned From A Retreat At An Ashram
OK, so I only lived on an ashram for 11 days, but still. Time passes with purpose when you're camping and isolated from the hubbub of cell phones, automobiles and the daily grind. Ashram living is structured. Rise at 5:30 a.m., silent meditation, Satsang, asana or lessons, brunch, karma yoga, lessons, asana, dinner, Satsang, bed. Every day. Rinse and repeat. Rinse in sacred, holy waters, that is, and repeat.
So what did 11 days living in this environment, soaking in its sanctifying ways, teach me?
1. Satsang literally means “to gather with the wise.”
Satsang is how we began and ended each day on the ashram. First we started with 20-30 minutes of silent meditation (which one day was spent actually walking the peace miracle labyrinth on the grounds, chanting mantras for the latter half), followed by kirtan and a bit of lecture. I felt like a teabag steeping in the wise waters of the swamis, my fellow beings — there was so much light and purity to absorb it was unnerving at times. I learned that gathering with the wise is truly a magical way to begin and end each day.
2. Brunch and dinner only meant a very hungry body.
We’re fed twice daily on the ashram. Beautiful vegetarian buffet style meals. This is not enough for my five-meals-a-day body! Luckily, having stayed on the ashram before for a retreat, I knew to pack a few healthy snacks. I learned in these 11 days that tapas, volunteered suffering, is highly purifying in all forms. Going a little hungry didn't kill me; it made me stronger. Breaking attachment to my normal routine and expectations was incredibly freeing.
3. Karma yoga is a selfless service.
On my first trip to the ashram I expected karma yoga to be an asana class. What a novice I was! Karma yoga is selfless service. While living at the ashram I came to love my karma yoga duties, which had me in the kitchen each day after brunch. I was the dish dryer and, by the end of my stay, I was singing as I dried, picking up conversations with my fellow yogis from the day before, comfortable and happy as a clam in my duties. I learned that karma yoga gives a sense of purpose where before there was a cloud of doubt.
I'm attached to my practice. By practicing the Sivananda style of yoga (when my usual style is vinyasa), I learned that I'm deeply connected to my flow. I also learned, however, that the energetic intention of the classical Sivananda sequence is highly intriguing. I began to gain comfort around poses I hadn't regularly practiced, like headstand. I began to find stillness in the intermittent savasanas rather than just conking out each time we laid down. I was enamored with the beginning pranayama practice from day one. I learned that sometimes distance makes the heart grow fonder, whether in regard to a person or one’s own practice.
You can learn important lessons once you're removed from your comfort zone. They can range from the overwhelming to the mundane, but in nearly two weeks, this routine became very peaceful and purifying for me. These are three of many lessons I learned while living on the ashram.
The greatest part is that I’m sure many more lessons will unveil themselves the longer I process my time there. When creature comforts are stripped away, you can see more clearly into your own being.
So, if I'm left with anything at all after my eleven days, it is this: the veil is there, it can be lifted, and my intention to forever see clearly is set.