When people first go to an ashram, they often think that they have to commit fully and put on a robe and leave everything behind in order to be spiritual.
Really, what an ashram asks you or inspires you to do is make a commitment to your own evolution and unique path.
While you may not be ready spiritually or practically to live in a spiritual community, you may still benefit from coming to a place set aside for retreat and study because there you can find ways of incorporating a spiritual focus into your everyday life.
When I first started visiting the ashram, I found that each time I came here I could bring back a new perspective to my family and work. At one point, I decided to do a mantra practice when I went back to my home. I chanted 10 minutes a day in a little space I created for myself. It wasn’t an intensive practice, but changes happened in me. I began to question the conventions of my life and gain courage to act in difficult situations.
At that time, I was also involved with a yoga group that met weekly for sessions of 10 weeks. Even taking that little bit of time, one evening a week, helped expand our consciousness. We found something of value together and wanted to keep it alive. Each time we began a new session we would write what we had learned so far and what we would commit to for the next session. We focused on our own reflections and spiritual practice. The commitment kept bringing us back to why we were meeting, to support the best in each other and ourselves.
I’ve lived in all sorts of communities throughout my life. I grew up in a large family, and raised a small family of my own. I’ve lived in a commune and I’ve lived in communal housing. So I thought I knew what community life was like. When I planned to move to the ashram, I made a conscious decision that I was going to surrender to the community, but my guru said, “No! Don’t surrender to the community. Surrender only to the Most High.” That shifted my vision of community life. Something higher was connecting us all, and it was greater than people’s personalities or agendas or even my own ideas.
People all have their own reasons for coming to live in a spiritual community, and most of us think we are prepared, but usually the experience turns our worldview upside down. Failure may be success if the lesson is to learn humility; learning a simple task brings self-knowledge. By using the community as a mirror, we learn to know our own minds and can proceed toward Light and wisdom.
There is a fine balance between the personal and the communal. We are independent beings, yet we are together in a community, and we have to learn to live on this edge. The human tendencies of procrastination, ambition and preferences need to be addressed in our personal and group work. Our Divine spark is nourished and encouraged through community respect and personal spiritual practices.
It is that tension between independence and community, seemingly contradictory ideas, that keeps any community alive. Each one of us has to do deep work on ourselves and keep bringing that work back into the community.
The independence we want to foster is an inner strength—the ability to make decisions, to think clearly, to be courageous—rather than a selfishness or a desire to do things our own way. In a meeting where everyone had a voice, one comment was, “That was such a great meeting—not everyone agreed, but everyone listened.” Community can help foster that independence, but it requires making a commitment over and over and over. When the commitment is made, the ashram becomes everyone’s, and they care for and respect it not from rules but from understanding and love.
And that’s what community can do—it can support people’s sincere ideals. It may not be comfortable at times, and at those times you need your heartfelt commitment to carry you through the highs and lows of spiritual life. If you go through a difficult period, do you have the determination to keep on and meet the test? When distractions come up, can you make your own decisions based on your ideals? If your commitment is ambiguous, it makes your decision harder to make. A firm commitment to the Divine is a powerful reality.
By keeping to my commitment, I build the foundation to face whatever is on my path as I live in the ashram community. The other morning I walked around the enclosed garden, which was filled with warm sunlight, beautiful flowers and chirping, chattering, buzzing garden sounds. As I was walking, the ashram cat started to walk with me slowly, meditatively, too. As we came to the chattering chipmunk, she hesitated and then kept on walking. Around and around she went with me, each time making a commitment to keep on.ॐ
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Editor: Travis May
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