India – Land of a billion+ people, 300 million+ gods, and the holy cow. Land of great wealth and unimaginable poverty. Land of colors – brilliant saris, artfully woven pashminas, fragrant spices. Land of the caste system, of patriarchy, of yogis and ashrams. Founding country of many religions, and home of one of the seven wonders of the world.
I hadn’t planned to come to India – (budget) travel in India is “hard-core”, meaning, dealing with huge crowds of people, rather special modes of transport and cultural differences is a little bit challenging, not to forget that India didn’t only generate good headlines in the past two years where women are concerned. But when a friend asked me if I wanted to join her for 3 weeks of ashram, I said Yes – I was curious about living in an ashram, and it was a good moment to take time out for contemplation, yoga and especially the (nearly) vegan diet (Australia has something to answer for!).
My first time in India – to be honest, I was a bit apprehensive – they say that you really get to know yourself in India, and what THAT means I had experienced sufficiently in the past months. I did need three days to make the mental transition from West to East, from the calm, orderly streets of Australia to the dusty, noisy chaos that is India.
A few days in Jodhpur, in the picturesque State of Rajasthan, brought me around again – Jodhpur is also called the Blue City, as in olden days the Brahmins, the highest caste, and only they, had the right to paint their houses blue, which they did enthusiastically (why blue? The answers ranged from Lord Shiva’s skin color to mosquito repellant to cooling in summer). In Jodhpur, you can buy beautifully woven fabrics, and there is a palm reader – he predicted health, a long life, sufficient material wealth, and one or the other loves in my life. What else can you ask for?
Back to Delhi, where I met old and dear colleagues from Nucleus – and who gave me the newest gossip on CSR4856 (don’t worry if you don’t understand).
My friend Kim had arrived in the meantime, and for her birthday invited to a very fine restaurant, with 15 courses, and a new wine with each course – the train journey to Haridwar early next morning is a bit nebulous in my recollection, but somehow, we made it to the Ashram, for 3 weeks of detox (well, meditation, yoga, and spiritual peace, of course).
My first ashram experience – a (cozy) concrete cell with iron prison door, 6am morning meditation, 7am yoga, 8am breakfast, 9am karma yoga (= communal service), 10am vocal yoga, 11.30am group sitting (sat sang) with our Swami Ji (local guru), 1pm lunch, 3.30pm tea, 4.30pm yoga, 6pm evening meditation, 7pm dinner, 8pm cultural program. Hard work, which is supposed to serve the good of ones soul and body. Food consisted mainly of rice, chapati, lentils, potatoes, cabbagy things, and gourds – breakfast, lunch and dinner – and sometimes a bit of yoghurt or porridge, and fruit. Not exactly exciting, but it filled the stomach.
Did I feel mentally and physically reformed after three weeks? Well – I confess. The full program I did perhaps once, after 1 week I also gave up on morning meditation, and after 2 weeks I had chucked pretty much everything apart from yoga and vocal yoga. The remaining time I spent eating, dozing, sleeping, reading, and – when I could rouse myself sufficiently – some deep thinking about my life.
This may disappoint ashram fans, and I did ask myself the question if perhaps I was missing the point and missed a chance to advance on my spiritual path. I do see the value of an ashram – an oasis of calm and contemplativeness, perhaps of self-finding, within a peaceful and safe environment, surrounded by like-minded people. An opportunity especially for stressed people to relax and let go, to find physical and mental solace, and to breathe spiritual freedom. A chance to speak to the guru and find new thoughts and perspectives.
And an opportunity to provide wellness to body and mind. At least that I used, I am apparently a bit skewed from the 7th vertebra down and began to align things again, and for the first time in my life I managed to touch my feet with legs straight (with a little bit of assistance…).
When I thought about why I didn’t use the offers of meditation and sat sang more, I noticed that I have a non-problem: Right now, I don’t have a problem. I don’t feel stressed but pretty relaxed; spiritually, I don’t feel in need of a new guru, but am happy with the spiritual path I found for myself; as far as I know I am healthy, I do what I want to do, see the world, get to know interesting people, learn something new every day of my life – I am just feeling good. Before you start hating me: I am aware that I am tempting fate with these words, and I also know that nothing is permanent in life, the next problem (challenge, opportunity) will be waiting around the corner, therefore I am just grateful for this moment in time. And I don’t feel in need of intense spirituality, but have been using the time to reflect about the learnings from the last months, and to think about what I really want to do with my life in future.
My life, I also noticed during my deep musings, resembles a week full of Sundays, so much so that I am sometimes missing a real Sunday, as someone who lives in constant sunshine starts missing rain after a while.
To conclude, another thought: One of the basic principles of the ashram: Life needs order and organization. There might be reasons not to observe order, but those three are never good reasons: Laziness, inertia, and negativity.
I find that this is a very honorable principle, and resolve that in future I will check my decisions not to do something against laziness (probable), inertia (ditto), and negativity (hopefully not). This, as well as my new-found and hopefully staying fondness of yoga I take with me from the Ashram, and that is already quite a lot (thank you, Nathalie from Sesame-Yoga!).
And what do I take with me from India (other than a number of beautiful shawls and a little Ganesh)? That which the headlines don’t mention: The friendliness, the helpfulness, the beautiful smile of so many Indian people, and which together with the colors of India and a yearning to know more about the changeable history and enormous variety of customs, traditions and religions make me wish to see more of this country.
But first it’s on to Santiago de Chile, for a one month super intensive Spanish language course including homestay with a Chilean family – hasta luego, amigos!
Gudrun, I’m at a cafe in town reading your post again, hoping the pics would open, but most of them won’t. Proper wifi is needed. Just wanted to tell you, again, that I love your life, and glad you decided to share the journey. Be well!
What fantastic photos. You have really captured India here.