I almost cried when we stepped into our room in the Ashram.
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The Spartan room held four cots, each laden with a sparse cotton towel and a pillow, a small wooden nightstand pushed against each bed frame, a safe, and a cupboard. A bathroom and a sink stood at the end of the room. A fan spun lazily in the center of the ceiling, doing little to alleviate the sweltering Bangalore heat. A small, framed paper stating the ashram’s rules hung by the door. No consumption of meat on the ashram campus, it said. Hot water is only available from 4:30 to 7:30 A.M.
My family and I had decided to stay on the Sri Sri Ravishankar Guruji Ashram on Kanakapura Road, a place where Hindus, ascetics, and western hippies from all over come to meditate and find peace. Before our religious family members urged us to check out the Ashram, my mother, sisters and I were staying comfortably in a 4-star hotel in Whitefield, the high-tech side of Bangalore. I truly believed the breakfast buffet there was the closest I could ever get to inner peace.
The Ashram was a dizzying contrast to the rest of Bangalore. Thickets of trees and verdure replaced the city’s traffic. The rickshaw drivers within the enclosement were not the usual devious motorists who could immediately sense your foreign-ness and were quick to swindle. The first day there, my sisters and I learned the meaning of Ashram: ‘A’, in Sanskrit, was ‘without’, and ‘shram’ meant effort. Effortless. It was true.The hustle-bustle of the city, the shrieking of car and bus horns and vendors hawking cheap goods, the thick persistent smog, all gone. Within a few hours, my frustration with the lack of WiFi dissipated. The serenity of the area resonated across the sanctuary.
The first wash of sunlight in our room woke us on the second day. After hot showers, my family and I traveled to the mess hall for a satvik meal: food that is emphasizes seasonal foods such as dairy, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. We ambled around without purpose, pausing by the lake to splash our feet around and stare at our reflections, or at the temples to invoke the silence, to feed the peacocks and the deer in the Radha Kunj, or listen to the students at the Vedic school chant in low, rhythmic voices.
At the end of our second night there, a satsang was held in the main temple, where all the inhabitants of the Ashram gathered to hear a guru speak about self. Everything was statically silent except for the guru’s voice, even children stopped and stared at the man intently. When he was finished, a hum set over the audience, and a singer took the stage. When he began to sing, the demure aura of spirituality broke and everyone in the temple broke into unanimous song and dance. The overwhelming sense of shared happiness, of community, gripped me.
After the fourth and last night, I was almost dreading returning to the monotony of “real” life. The life where you couldn’t pet the cows at the Goshala whenever you want, the life where you couldn’t watch a thunderstorm rumble across a field of yogis, the life where hot water was available 24/7. I was ready to teach myself how to apply my immersive experience into usual life, but I found that I didn’t even need to. This relaxed state of mind had already seeped into my everyday activities; I didn’t have to do anything. It was effortless.
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