Deep within the experience of a pro-bono visit to the Shri Shaktidarshan Yogashram, Ganesh Kamath finds a peaceful space. More than ‘finding’ this peaceful space, he is lead there by a guide called upon by the Guruji Devababa. Following several morning rituals and a brief yog(a) session, this woman leads the way forward, and foreshadows the meeting of another woman who ‘does not eat’. Unlike the scare stories perhaps told during your childhood, this woman living in nature is not to be mistaken as one who ‘does not bite’, but instead, the meaning here is that she literally doesn’t eat food.
Nestled within a small prayer room within a small home within a wide and sprawling landscape: this is where she resides. Upon entering and touring the home an observation is made that there is an active kitchen, and our guests are even offered prasad. But let us throw this aside, since whether or not she eats is not actually the crux of this story. Picking it back up for a moment, it is interesting to note what is told by the people and what we each observe while moving through the experience. This points to what is important: the internal experience of those present. Upon entering the house, Ganesh felt an internal call, or a natural inclination to enter into meditation. He closed his eyes and instantly found himself within a state of mental quiet.
After leaving the house, and in discussion with his cousin Sri Ram, Ganesh confirms his belief that it is something about the space and not only himself which accounts for the mental silence. Without any mention on his side, Ganesh is told about Sri Ram’s experience and that he too felt this action or inaction of the “thoughts stopped coming.”
What then could it be about this space? About this woman? About what the woman is doing in the space?
Presumably, she is engaged in rituals and meditation throughout her days. One belief may be that by behaving in such a way she gives off a vibration that tunes the environment to this same ritualistic and meditative energy. Imagine the water turning red with a drop of blood, or your clothes staining yellow with the touch of turmeric. Now take this same image and expand it through time, through the accumulation of years of persistent application; whether red or yellow, the colour surely deepens. … Or you became distracted and forgot what you were doing… hocus focus 😉
Ushering in rationale, with no need for food there would be very little need of activity. With moments few and far between of action or spoken word a very quiet atmosphere would simply exist. What is surprising, regardless of how this atmosphere is created, is the experiential fact that this quiet penetrated into the mental awareness of both cousins.
Then again, have a friend mimic the ‘pssssssss’ sound of waterfalls and you’ll soon find yourself with an urge to pee…
So, there is something special about this place → wonderful!
Will it be special for you? Will you be invited to venture into this home? Who is to say? Who knows?
Perhaps you’d like to know some more about the ashram itself…
The ashram itself…
Far from the expected.
This may be the most appropriate description based on Ganesh’s account of the story, and my recount.
Let us begin with your expectation of an ashram. Think to yourself for a moment, or experience in whatever way is relevant to you, maybe through a feeling, or imagery, maybe a memory, or perhaps a sound, or touch, or taste, or speech, or. What does an ashram mean to you?
..some time passes
Now I’ll continue telling the story.
Our pair of travellers, Ganesh and Sri Ram, arrived at the ashram in the afternoon. Neither of them had access to mobile internet, and without specific knowledge of its location, it was a small journey getting to the site itself. Luckily a mechanic was found on the way who gladly diverted his time and attention to provide some guidance to the pair. He even went as far as leaving his shop to re-join the travellers when they were clearly still lost a short distance down the road at the next shop. As saving grace, the travellers were instructed to go to the next shop, so it was not as though they were completely oblivious, nor terrible with directions.
As for what to picture for an environment, take a moment to watch this short video filmed on-site by Ganesh.
Video Credit: https://www.youtube.com/c/bantakal
Once on site, Ganesh and Sri Ram found the Guruji Devababa busily occupied with other visitors and without the need to divert his attention to the newcomers. Further to this, none of the staff made for a hospitable move to include them or show them the way to their own comfort. Left to their own devices, the pair sat idle in waiting. After some time, the program coordinator welcomed them and brought them to the refreshments, thereafter giving a key and access to their own room.
As background to the story, Sri Ram is a university assistant professor and so were many of the participants at this overnight retreat. The retreat was organized by one of these professors who was a regular attendee over the past decade or so. This professor-coordinator and his wife were both present, and it was this wife who was mentioned at the beginning of this story.
In their room
It was heartwarming to hear of how the cousins were able to spend much time with each other during this retreat. Often in the story, Ganesh told of how the two went from one place to their room, from their room to somewhere, and then back to the room. Each time when returning to the room they had something of interest to discuss, or if not something interesting then at least they had something odd to talk about.
What’s up with this food?
What’s up with the 10-minute yoga session?
Should we stay or should we go?
So the food… The first night everyone was gathered for dinner, and all was displayed in front of them. Sitting in a garden dedicated to the Navagraha (9 planets), the Guruji Devababa said ‘before eating let us enjoy some time,’ and he invited whoever was willing to share in song, dance, joke, or other means of celebration. Someone sang a prayer or mantra. Then jokes were shared. Now take a moment to remember the suggestion that this was not an ashram as expected, and indeed the tone was far from a ‘serious and in-tune with the quiet within’ sort of setting.
…and really.. why not? Is it only for the rowdy and reckless people to enjoy musical expressions and humorous stories? I am reminded of the warm summer nights of Canada (where I come from) where people go wild with huge outdoor bonfires.
Want to hear a joke?
A man was owning an Enfield “Bullet” motorbike. When he got married his wife requested that he change in the Bullet for a scooter. He obliged. After a few months, he sold that scooter and again bought a Bullet.
… if you didn’t ‘get’ the joke, as was the case for me, ask a married man and he can explain…
When the food was served…
Following the establishment of a convivial and friendly social atmosphere, the food was served. The food was a combination of what visitors had brought to share and what was provided by the people of the ashram. The dinner itself was by donation (included for the registrants of the retreat) and the style of how to donate was to bring something to share, rather than by contributing with money. Many people bought sweets like ladoo or chocolate cake. These treats made up the first round of food, followed by typical dinner items like rice and curry.
The following day was a light and simple breakfast, and there was fresh juice made throughout the day. So here we see a mix of healthy food and space made for the joys of eating for pleasure.
After dinner came a round of meditation, and the participants were given a simple instruction, though with much depth depending on how it was received. The Guruji Devababa invited others to ‘listen to the sound of nature ambiances and imagine that it is inside you, and meditate’. From Ganesh’s experience, there was nothing more offered. No step-by-step instructions or frequent guidance and directions. A simple invitation to imagine the reality in a different-than-usual way and meditate. One feature of this I’ll personally mention is that it can facilitate the internal guide to come forward. Almost like being invited into a room and being given a puzzle to solve. One might not know immediately how to proceed, but after some time the small steps may become clear, and one might recognize that actually all the skills and ability that they require are available within.
This isn’t exactly what happened to our travelling duo. After a few minutes of silence, Ganesh took a glance around to observe the room, space, and other participants. He was met with the staring eyes of his cousin Sri Ram. A few head nods and it was understood that both were fine with ending the meditation there and returning to their room. “Let’s go?”, “Chalo”.
Back to the room
Again, the opportunity to connect on a personal level presented itself, and indeed they only chose to sleep as the night pressed on because of the need to be up early for the yog(a) session.
What yog session?
The next morning was a mess of mismatched timing. Ganesh and Sri Ram were ready and punctual for the class, but they were the only ones. No yog(a) teacher, no Guruji Devababa, not even any other participants. Some workers were active in their duties within the cowshed, and while walking back to their room the pair noticed a woman preparing for her day. When asked about the yog(a) class she responded curtly saying something like: “the facilities are available, what you know you practice.” In a way this can be seen as a refreshing idea. It removes the onus from the ‘other’ and back to the individual. So even though the participants are here for a yog(a) retreat, they need not rely on the punctuality of instructors and the motivation of someone else telling them what to do. Here is a space, do what you know.
However, and again, this was not what the pair chose to do. It seems they needed this motivation, and so after returning to their room and talking for some time, they were provided with exactly this little push. A different woman came and said the class was starting.
In some ways, timing is everything. Arriving at the class they were greeted by the yog(a) instructor and within the first 10 minutes of practice an interruption came as it was announced that a ritual was starting that needed to be attended. Class dismissed! Yogashram…what yog? My thinking here is: Well, if someone was keen and began practicing at the scheduled time, then when the instructor came there could be significant progress made into deepening the experience in those 10 minutes.
We all have our own style, and we are each rewarded in kind for this.
At a glance
Perhaps the real purpose of this journey was not about learning specific techniques for meditation or yog. Perhaps it was more about experiencing a quiet and peaceful environment, about exploring the journey and about seeing oneself and how they are at this time. It may be worthwhile for each and every one of us to take the time in reflection to notice how we are in various situations. How are you when the instructor is late? What thoughts come to mind? And most of all, how are you when you become aware of these thoughts? What happens in your body? What happens in your mind?
As an aside…
It was a remarkable observation that there was an utter lack of mosquitoes on the property. Not a single one was observed. Yet, there were the typical attractants for mosquitoes. People for one. Also: cow sheds. Furthermore, the practice of spreading cow dung water was taking place on the land, which, I am told, is common place in many village communities and often attracts mosquitoes as well.
Little seedlings of ideas come to mind that perhaps such an energy exists that repels mosquitoes like the light repels darkness.
Moving toward the practical, the pair had observed that several lemon and turmeric plants were living on the property. One could go deep into the research of whether or not these plants do or do not repel mosquitoes, and if they do, how effective they are. For this article, suffice it to say that the mosquitoes were noticeably absent, it was surprising to the guests, and the cause for this convenience was not exactly known.
Incidentally, what do you personally do when meditating and these airborne water-born creatures come to visit? One might call them pests, from a human-nuisance perspective. One might equally call them aids in meditation. For one, they increase one’s personal resolve to stay seated in meditation, invigorating the motivation of winning a challenge. They can also be seen as experts in applying acupuncture, and showing the meditator a sensation on a tiny tiny tiny little spot on the surface of the body. In one instance within my own personal experience, a mosquito found the place on my foot that matched the organ depicted in reflexology where I was experiencing some discomfort in that moment. Who is to say that some higher intelligence is or is not at play?
Mosquitoes, like all living creatures, have an undeniable role in the diversity of this planet. Without them, there would be one less drop in the ocean, so to speak.
Again I’ll pose the question: what do you personally do when meditating and mosquitoes visit your body?
Here’s an invitation to take a moment and contribute to the ‘comments’ section, which is like free advertisement and spreading the story by word of mouth through internet activity. After all, the intention of this article is a way to promote this ashram and a way for Ganesh to give back with what resources he has available: his time and me and my stay as an author through WorkAway.
On the 2nd day there was another meditation session, this time with something more substantial coming from the Guruji Devababa. First was the practice of Kapalbhati breathing as a way to prepare for meditation. No one was encouraged to compete with the Guruji Devababa, nor to follow in exact form as he proceeded to do 100 consecutive breathes, which for anyone who has tried without substantial practice earned over an extended period of time, you’ll know, 100 is a lot. Some guidance was then offered about concentrating on the breathe, and then a musical accompaniment began. The Guruji Devababa played the flute along with a recorded tanpura. Halfway through the meditation the flute ended and the recording continued while participants sat in silence. The whole session was about one and a half hours.
One of the participants attempted to lead the class toward Satsang rather than practicing meditation, claiming that none of them knew how to meditate and that their time might be better utilized receiving discourse. However, in response to this, the Guruji Devababa asserted that “we teach meditation here, this is what we do”. Self-empowerment and standing in one’s power.
After the meditation session the people were offered a break with some fresh juice. Returning to the ashram a lying down Yoga nidra session commenced. It seemed that this was similar to a Vipassana-style scanning of the body, though perhaps with more suggestion of what to experience and feel as sensation, such as: “feel the electric pulse”, or “imagine you are floating on the sea”. In contrast to Vipassana, where the aim is to see things as they are, this guidance offered a way to relax and be at ease following the meditation. Indeed, many participants were lulled into a tranquil sleep for this 30 or 45 minutes of horizontal Yoga Nidra.
A brief questions and answers time. Here the duo were able to share their experience of ‘quiet mind’. The Guruji Devababa’s response was something to the effect that it may be due to a sudden change of environment from the sights and sounds of the outdoors and conversation to a shift within the confined quiet of this small indoor space. It is for each of us to choose what version of reality we wish to see and experience.
For Ganesh, this experience with the woman in the house and the mental quiet was very significant. It has become one of only 3 places where he has felt this kind of mental stillness. The other two were a Saavira Kambada Basadi (Jain temple noted for its 1000 pillars) in Moodabidri, Karnataka which is nearby to his home and the Tulsi Ghat in Varanasi.
The rest of the events of this story are laced with practicing rituals and interacting with the cows, other participants, and taking in the familiar as well as the new experiences.
Let us cap it here, and say that if you are intrigued, consider visiting.
You may receive something quite unlike the expected.
What was it like for Sri Ram and his professor-colleagues? Maybe simply an opportunity to be distant from the ordinary, distant from the usual, from the routine, from deadlines, from pressure. Instead, for them to be close to peace, tranquility, friendliness, close to their self and to others. Perhaps an opportunity to bond as human beings, learn something new from one another and from whatever presented itself.
A place to relax.