4 Surprising Lessons Learned From 21 Days At An Ashram In India
A few years ago, I somehow landed on the couch of an energy healer in Hungary, my home-base at the time. I had no idea what I was doing in that strange, musky basement, but I followed her demands to close my eyes as she did her energy thing. Whatever that is.
She told me she couldn’t fathom why on earth anyone my age could be so angry and bitter towards the world; according to her, my liver was on the verge of exploding from toxins (unrelated to alcohol). I wanted to scream back that I had every reason to be angry–that an evil cancer was raging through my father’s brain, leaving him only months on this earth, that yet another relationship had failed, and that the job I was addicted to was sucking the life out of me.
Instead, I remained quiet, got up off her couch, paid her and left.
It was also the first time in my life I took a real vacation; the first time ever that I returned home with a full heart and a steady grounding.
Once back in my apartment, I just sat and stared at the wall… for hours. Damn it, she was right. So I started soul searching and Googling. I had no idea what I was looking for, but somehow, I stumbled upon a program at an Ashram in India. The program was called “The Art of Joyful Living,” and if accepted, I was to spend 21 days with a teacher and a group of seven other students from all over the world studying yogic philosophy and meditation.
A day later, they accepted my application. I ran out of excuses and decided to take the leap.
My time at the Ashram was intense. It forced me to explore deeper within myself than ever before. It was also the first time in my life I took a real vacation; the first time ever that I returned home with a full heart and a steady grounding.
So here’s what I learned:
4 Surprising Lessons Learned from 21 Days at an Ashram in India
1. We have to clear our glasses
When I first got to the Ashram, I was appalled. It was, like so many things in life, not what I had expected. There was no real shower–just a faucet and two buckets. The bed was harder than the floor. Geckos were running along the walls.
I went to sleep my first night sad and mad that I made another impulsive decision without thinking it all the way through. Between jetlag-disturbed dreams, I plotted my escape from India, back to the land of warm showers and plush beds.
When I woke up the next day in a sleepy fog and stepped out of the room, the beauty of where I was nearly blinded me. Surely this was a different place than I had been in the day before. The day before I was so wrapped up in the crazy, frenzied world of my mind that I hadn’t noticed the Himalayan Mountains in the background, the Ganges River right under my nose or the beautiful garden at my feet.
Yet, I was in the same exact place. The sun was shining from the same angle and nothing physical had changed at all. It’s as though I had just cleared the grime from my glasses and could finally see.
2. Monkeys like toast, too
One morning, a monkey waltzed into the dining room, calm and relaxed, as if he/she actually belonged there, took one look at the plate I had foraged myself for breakfast, reached up, grabbed a hold of my bread toasted to perfection and walked out. I was dumbfounded. I’d never seen a monkey that close before outside of the zoo, let alone been a victim of its theft. It was, and continues to be, my lesson to share. Nothing in life is actually “mine”, it may just be here for me to use for the time being.
3. There is nothing mystical about meditation
Before my time at the Ashram, I hated meditating–my stomach would inevitably growl, and I would suddenly be consumed with what outfit I was going to wear the next day. I thought that in meditation, something mystical was supposed to happen and I would enter some trippy, Alice in Wonderland dream world. But as my teacher in India quickly informed me, I was wrong (yet again).
So I slowly experienced what meditation really is–sitting in silence and observing your thoughts. Learning to remove yourself from the main character and watch what comes up, watching so much and so often in a disciplined manner that the mind simply, finally ceases to come up with distracting bullshit and lets you rest in blissful meditation–a state even more relaxing than dream-filled sleep could ever be.
4. And yes, let’s talk safety
Before I left for India, nearly everyone’s response when I told them about my plans was, “You’re going ALONE? It’s not safe. Especially for a white woman.” As for me, my only safety precaution was pepper spray. Which failed miserably because apparently TSA doesn’t take kindly to such items tucked away into carry on bags. And so they threw away my one tool of protection. Thank God they did; it would have been deadweight.
Never once did I feel unsafe or threatened–and mind you, I even rode rickshaws packed with men late at night (it’s a long story). Sure, males in India look at women more than in the West. And sure, there maybe a little catcalling, but nothing scary, nothing dangerous. Like everywhere else in the world, safety is not to be taken lightly, particularly as a single female traveler, but in the case of India, I certainly hope fear of safety won’t act as a barrier for someone wanting to travel.
It’s eye opening, it’s safe, and it’s oh so enlightening; so next time an energy healer tells you you’re screwed, I recommend booking a trip to an ashram in India.
Photos by Unsplash and Irina Vishnevskaya.