At an ashram tucked away in Rishikesh, India, a Swami beckoned us over for a post dinner chat. My demeanor remained calm, as my heart sped up slightly. His peaceful yet powerful presence emanated from his long white beard and white robe.
He handed us peanuts (as dessert), one at a time, and inquired about our intention in coming to the Aurovalley Ashram. He asked us questions about our purpose in life and what had brought us there. He said that one day we would want to leave our lives as they were and come back to a place like Aurovalley.
I looked up at the starry sky in an effort to rebound the uncomfortable intensity that began to take over my being. The stars must have heard my quiet cry for relief as I began to ground myself and come back to the sensations of my body. This wasn’t a moment to miss.
At the time, his remarks puzzled and bothered me…why would I leave a life of purpose and service, of fine dining and Sundays in the park to exist in seamless isolation? I love yoga and strive for a strong meditation practice, but how could I convert this to a life of moving meditation, eating in silence and days upon days of spiritual reading? How could one feel fulfilled that way?
. . . . . .
I have been back in the US for almost 3 months to the day and although I am not packing a bag and heading for the hills, I am starting to understand a truth in what the Swami said.
The first two months of being back were blissful. I floated on a high of seeing familiar faces, places, and savored all the comforts of home.
Then two weeks ago I experienced a few days where I struggled, fought and resisted what I knew had occurred. The vacation was over. It was time to readjust.
I can feel like a stranger in my own “familiar” world. Each time I return to home, I find it’s necessary to create space for all the new lessons and experiences I’ve acquired along the way. It was time to integrate these into my life here.
Coming back with me this time was a village mentality: rooted in simple living, no personal space and resourcefulness. The foundation and strength lie in the community.
Now I am back to where instant gratification, speed and individual desires are king.
Don’t get me wrong, I love being American and all the luxuries it has afforded me, but there are times where I am less satisfied with the American lifestyle. I appreciate it and yet loathe how it drives people to act.
Being American has allowed me to travel the world and find my peace and yet when I’m here I may go hours without taking a full deep belly breathe, leaving me overwhelmed and stressed. I observe the chaos and busyness and recognize it because I can see it in myself.
I could argue that this is my fault and that I become a product of my environment, I’m too sensitive or I’m not remaining present. But the stimulation is different here. The distractions and sources of entertainment are endless and at your fingertips which leaves fewer gaps and windows for the moment to be observed.
On the other end of the spectrum, reunions and good conversation with friends, family or a genuine smile from a stranger sustain my soul where they chaos will not.
I’m working on what it means for me to live here. It’s a challenge; it has been for a while, but the challenge changes. I get glimpses of what it means to live the life I want to live. Moments of spaciousness make me want to keep enduring the challenge. I’m not going to give up as easy as before and live a life here merely fantasizing about the next getaway (at least all of the time).
I want my world to be a beautiful blend of all the places I have been and the special aspects of life I have fallen in love with time and time again. I want to remain an observer in this fast paced digital world. I want to utilize the many benefits this world offers but not get caught up in it.
I am creating my world around what is important to me and in the meantime, I’m finding out what doesn’t serve me. Society has created many messages and constructs of what life should be, but these are outdated, lack authenticity and creativity.
These “difficulties” of living here are not to be shunned or discarded. Like the shadowy and dark parts of your being, shed light on them and they will diminish or at least the importance of them will.
In Uganda, I was surrounded with a community that became a family. I was supported in opening up and creating connections. Overall I would say this is less common here. But in that, I have discovered a new sensitivity to being vulnerable and opening up. I see how much deeper I can connect with people if I’m willing to do so, if I’m willing to be uncomfortable and receive more love in the end. It doesn’t come easy, but like all growth, it is worth it.
. . . . . .
So, Swami, I don’t think you have to dedicate all of your life to self-inquiry and solitude. Although, it does give one endless time and space to ponder, to know themselves on a deeper level and rid themselves of the distractions and busyness. In those moments of true silence lay many of the answer we seek to find outside of ourselves.
Instead of fueling the false sense of self with excess distractions, you get to nurture the true essence of who you are. I absolutely see the value in that, not only on a personal level, but also a world level. I respect and honor those who decided to do that in any capacity.
For now, I give myself 5-10 minutes of meditation in the morning, a yoga class in the evening and as much yummy organic food as I can eat. In these practices, I am frequently drawn back to those four days spent at the Aurovalley Ashram.
The rest of it…all the beautiful, challenging, strange, thought-provoking moments sewn together to create each day are a still important to me. I don’t have answers to the many questions the Swami asked that night, but with his enchanting ambiguity, I don’t think he had all the answers either.