September 16, 2012

Life at an Ashram: Stillness Overflowing.

photo: flickr/Bob K.

Many of you have written and asked what life is like at the ashram; in short, it is nothing I wanted and everything I needed.

Daily life is very busy, which is not what one would typically expect—I know I certainly didn’t expect it.

Before I knew what ashram life was actually like, I had this image that I would be sitting around, groveling on my knees, begging the forgiveness of the Divine for all my sins (yes, I grew up Catholic…I know guilt like the back of my hand…I also have a lot of sins). I imagined countless hours of meditating, chanting, fasting and sitting still until my knees ached so bad that I thought I would never be able stand again.

The reality couldn’t be any more different.

The Aghor path, which is what this ashram is based in, is one of moderation and the middle road—it is also the oldest tradition of yoga in all of India, so folks, it is the real deal. Aghor literally translates as, “that which is not difficult or terrible.”

Did you just breathe a sigh of relief?

Having experienced both the ashram here in Sonoma, California and in Varanasi, India, I can tell you that it is exactly that—peaceful, graceful and not difficult at all.

photo: Christopher Day/Rasamaya Staff Photographer

There is a pulse to the energy here. Each moment moves in rhythm with the other moments at the ashram like a well-oiled machine. It’s like being in a peaceful mosh pit where no one gets trampled. Time somehow stands still and every moment is filled—there is laundry to be done, a room to be cleaned, a meal to be prepared, a guest to talk with.

At the end of each day I look back and think, “Did I actually do anything today?”And then, I realize that I did a million small things, all in service to the Divine—and that it was beautiful and useful.

I was describing what living here feels like to a couple of visitors; all I could come up with was “purposeful.” My friend David, another devotee of this ashram, commented in our recent emails, “I see you have fallen into ‘stillness overflowing.‘”

This is exactly what it feels like: overflowing calmness 24/7—I’ve never been busier and happier.

It’s very different than the real world, in the sense that there is a structure to life here. In the real world, we often rush from point A to point B. Perhaps your day looks like this:

7:00 am: “Made it to yoga practice—yeah for me! I got up and did it! I promise myself I am going to do this every day.”

8:00 am: “I’m feeling good let’s keep the yoga vibe going. I’m going to get a wheatgrass-dirty-hippie-flax-banana-omega3-smoothie.”

8:10 am: “Okay, maybe I’ll stop and get a little Starbucks instead, that yoga practice was awfully early after all.”

8:30 am: “Now onto my 15 commitments before lunch. I think I can, I think I can. I am the powerful little engine that could. Go Positive Affirmation Me!”

12:00 pm: “Lunch?! Who has time for lunch?! I think there is a granola bar on the floor of the car. That’s healthy enough. Oh look, it says ‘organic and all natural.’ That must count for something. ”

3:00 pm: “Okay just need to return these 25 emails, then visit the grocery store, oh, and the dog is at the groomer. I could really use a little pick me up. Maybe I can get a coffee and a cookie at that little bakery close to where I need to pick up the dry cleaning. I think they have a drive through.”

6:00 pm: “Okay, just three more things to do and then my day will be complete.”

9:00 pm: “Damn girl, look at the time—what happened? I think there are some frozen vegetables in the freezer. I could make dinner out of that. Screw it, I’ll have a fishbowl sized glass of wine instead and some cheese. I did yoga today, after all.”

6:00 am: Next day. (snore)

(alarm clock) (snooze) (alarm clock) (snore) (snooze) (alarm clock) (snooze) (snooze) (snore) (snooze)

6:45 am: “I worked so hard yesterday. I’ll do yoga tomorrow, I promise.”


Sound familiar? Yeah, I know, me too. What happens to us as adults? And why does working equally as much at an ashram feel so different than it does in my daily life?

I believe it has to do with structure; in daily life we lose the structure that we had when we were children.

If you think about it, when we were kids so much of our lives were scheduled. We would get up, maybe do homework, brush our teeth, eat breakfast, go to school, do homework, play with our friends, eat dinner, brush our teeth, go to bed. It’s simple.

But then something happens to us as adults.

photo: flickr/Felix E. Guerrero

When we are handed the golden ticket of adulthood all that structure falls away. We are given an iPhone with a blank calendar and an unspoken expectation to fill it in with things to do. Next thing we know we are burdened by all our commitments. We start talking about needing vacations and recharging, all because we are too burned out by our daily life.

According to the fabulous little yellow book called Life at the Ashram written by the Guru of this ashram, Harihar Ramji (aka Babaji), our time should be divided between four aspects in our life: family, work, personal time, and seva (service to the world). All of it should be in honor of the Divine (I call her Ma). None of these aspects should overlap with the other.

It’s a pretty simple recipe for happiness.

It’s this recipe that keeps the flow going here at the ashram. We do work for the ashram most of the day, we spend time with each other as family around mealtimes and in philosophy discussions, we carve out two hours in the afternoon for ourselves as well as spending time each morning and evening in prayer, yoga and meditation.

Seva happens in the unexpected moments, very naturally.

Last week, I spoke to a woman who is facing homelessness and spent time with a young girl who grew up in the school of hard knocks and is trying to find her path. Today, in downtown Sonoma, I gave ashram info to an artist who was new to the area seeking a local spiritual center. All around you are opportunities for seva, as an ashram naturally breeds that.

Much like childhood, life at an ashram is very scheduled. If you want dinner you better show up at the right time, otherwise, it will be you, a banana and some almond butter again. There is a certain beauty to planning your day based around schedule. “I will eat now” as opposed to “I’ll eat when I have time.”

I happen to thrive in this scheduled environment. And you know what? When I need to get away and be not so scheduled, to write an article with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, I do.

Plus, it feels so much different than before—now I really savor and enjoy the experience.

I have always loved the rituals of wine and coffee that our American culture has. These rituals represent socialization, celebration and relaxation and that’s not a bad thing; things only become “bad” when they are not in moderation.

Living in an ashram doesn’t mean throwing the baby out with the bath water—it means appreciating each moment.

They even let you have the ultimate sin—butter! Because after all, nothing should be “difficult or terrible.”

Stillness is overflowing.


Editor: Bryonie Wise

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