Sandy and I attended a yoga and wellness retreat a few weekends ago at an Ashram, one, because I have never been to an Ashram before and always like an adventure, and two, for a bit of business recon. If you aren't familiar with an Ashram (originating from India) , it is a place that a guru lives where people come to live or visit and learn from the wise teacher. It is a spiritual place, mostly following the teachings of Hindu and/or Buddhist history and theology, along with meditation and yoga practices. We happen to have an Ashram close to where we live. Go figure.
Being a person who enjoys yoga and meditation because it makes me feel better and quiets the monkey mind so I can have at least one coherent thought a day, we hoped to experience the culture and hopefully learn a few things or two about the ancient traditions of India that have infiltrated Western society.
It was an unusual, educational, and enlightening experience.
The food was excellent, all vegetarian cuisine, and prepared in a way with varying tastes and textures that didn't make you feel like something was missing. The cow is sacred in much of India, so you can bet that there is no beef, or chicken, or pork for that matter. While I can do vegetarian for a meal or two, my protein loving body would rebel after a short while, especially during breakfast which was oatmeal, toast, and other grain-based goods that I couldn't eat anyway. So Sandy and I kept some protein goodies in the car, and like Ashram criminals, made frequent visits to down some leftover meatloaf, hard boiled eggs, and sardines.
Our first day, the morning session involved 2 hours of meditation and chanting in Sanskrit which equated to attending a Catholic mass in Latin, foreign and boring in my book. If I had to interpret, the unrecognizable words meant “my toes are f-ing freezing because you all made me take off my shoes before entering the temple.” It was a rather intense start to something new, and if I wasn't the sort to stick it out and go with the flow despite being a bit uncomfortable, I would have run for the hills.
I appreciated the passion that many of the participants felt for their guru, but to Sandy and I, the woman (who is deceased) might as well have been the mailman's mother. There wasn't a connection for us, so we did what any other Ashram newbies would do, skipped the afternoon chanting session and continued our criminal-like behavior by investigating the property.
(We meant no disrespect by our ditch efforts, but you really need to meet people where they are at, especially beginners, and chanting in a language we didn't understand and listening to words of wisdom from a guru we knew nothing about was NOT where we were at.)
The 80 acre property itself is beautiful; it has several temples with a few creepy looking statues, an art studio, several ponds, dock on the water for doing yoga, and a permaculture area for growing fruits and veggies and raising chickens and goats. Plus there are dorms for residents and guests, vacant land for those who wish to build a home on the property, and plenty of rentable studios for classes, retreats, etc.
The Ashram prides itself as being an interfaith organization, and it truly is. It is the only place I know of where a statue of Jesus sits next to Ganesha, a Hindu God that is half man, half elephant, which is near a stone engraved in Hebrew. Definitely non-traditional.
Fortunately, after a rather strange start, we got to partake in yoga on the dock, over the water, which made for a much more relaxing and 'normal' experience. The first day ended with a drum circle, another event that we probably needed some background info on to fully appreciate what was happening. The drums lulled Sandy to sleep, quite the opposite effect from others who were dancing around in a fashion similar to that of a Native American rain dance.
The whole experience really happened in reverse. It wasn't until the last day of our adventure that we got an education behind the Ashram, it's guru, the temples, and the creepy-looking statues. Had we received this education on our first day, we would have better understood the chanting (well, at least some of it) as well as the method behind the madness. Ready, on cue, “Oooohhh, so THAT's what it meant!”
The last day we also participated in a 2 hour Kali Natha yoga session (a unique style to this Ashram which was absolutely divine), and yoga-d along with song and instruments played by the Ashram's music department. This in itself was a treat for me, as I have only experienced this type of music on one of my yoga DVDs. Sandy and I also earned about the Native American medicine wheel, and the retreat ended with a fire ceremony.
So in a nutshell, here is what I learned:
- The creepy looking Hindu statues really aren't that creepy once you understand the symbolism behind them. As a matter of fact, the most evil looking one looks that way because she takes away the suffering from others and carries the burden. I was relieved that she wasn't an assassin who carried the heads of her victims around her neck. Sometimes, we just need permission to let go of the non-essential crap we are lugging around.
- Buddhist philosophy teaches that it doesn't matter who you worship, what matters is your path to enlightenment and connection with your soul. So you can pray to God, Jesus, Mother Earth, the Universe, or your dog Rufus. It makes no difference. This, I love. Find something that feeds your soul and embrace it, even if others in your circle aren't doing the same thing.
- Vegetarian food really can be good, and was totally redefined in my book. Eat more veggies.
- Sometimes an uncomfortable experience helps you grow as a person. It teaches you that your way isn't the only way, and in general, we all seek spirituality for the same reason, a desire to connect to something bigger than ourselves, to seek out peace, self-love, and sense of purpose in the world. To grow, you really need to step out of your comfort zone.
- When you take time out to quiet your mind, you really can listen to your inner voice. Find a way to take time out just to listen. You might just get the answer you were looking for.