Archive 2008 - 2019

A Visit to an Ashram

by Herb Brockert

(A younger version of me with some of the local women and children at the local river. They washed our white clothing in river water by using a bar of soap and beating the clothes against some rocks. They would then iron them with a charcoal heated iron. In the end they looked "professionally" done.)

My first trip was a spiritual journey with a group of about twenty people heading to India to visit a spiritual guru. The term guru means “the remover of darkness.”  The trip was complete with a white walled ashram, clean accommodations, and safe food. The group was made up of people from many locations and various walks of life. We had an experienced guide named Kevin as our leader. He had been to India several times before and knew the ashram well.
Kevin spoke about the value of purification of the soul. In order to spiritually grow you have to do the work to remove the obstacles that keep you stuck in unhealthy life patterns. Spending time in the higher energy of the guru and being in the ashram environment would bring up the issues that were keeping us from having a satisfying and empowered life.  He suggested we each pick a “topic” that we want to learn something about or to work on.  Being there would give us the opportunity, the support and the environment to deal with such issues if we chose to do so. 

I did what he suggested. Since I did not have the marriage you would write the book about, I said my topic was that I wanted to "learn about love.” He said to me, ”I guarantee your life will change after the visit.”

(A gate to the ashram that led into the village of Puttaparthi. Often beggars would be hanging around  there hoping for a handout.)

I did some reading about the guru and about the” higher energy” in this ashram. By going to spend time there, one of the benefits you would receive was placing yourself in his energy.  It was being in this higher energy that provided the opportunity for change and to do the spiritual work necessary to move you to a higher consciousness.  I also heard that all you are looking for is already inside you but you have to get your own stuff out of the way in order to find it and then be able to live it. I did not understand purification of the soul and was not sure at the time what higher consciousness was and how I might recognize it if it showed up. I was ready to find out however.

After a six hour plane ride across the country, I met up with the group at the Los Angeles airport... Here, our journey of twenty more hours of flying officially began.  I knew it was going to be a long trip when the flight attendant handed me a menu listing all of the meals we would be getting.  It was printed on two pages.  Along the way we did stop once to refuel in Japan. 

The trip had turned into a timeless blur for me. I felt like I had traveled through a time portal somewhere and had entered a new universe. When we finally arrived in India I did not know what day it was and I did not care.  To finish an already painfully long trip we had five more hours on a bumpy bus ride.  It was 6:00 PM India time when we finally arrived at the ashram.

A pit stop on our bumpy bus ride from the airport to the ashram. We traveled trough a lot of rural India on this trip. I saw lovely hilly countryside covered with new varieties of trees and plants. The scenery added beauty to the long ride. It was good to finally get to the ashram though.)

Kevin said we would be getting up at 4:30 in the morning to go to darshan. Darshan means the site or presence of the holy person. I did not know what to expect but I laughed to myself thinking there are not enough people on this trip to pull me out of bed at 4:30 AM to find out.  After all the traveling I had done, 4:30 AM seemed impossible to do.

I was shocked that I did wake up at 4:30 rather easily. Much to my surprise I felt like I had been injected with a healthy dose of some good espresso caffeine while I was sleeping. I was wide awake and ready to go. It’s the higher energy here that you are feeling; it fills you with a high frequency vibration and gives you energy to run on, they told me, kind of like filling your tank with a new fuel.  I was not sure yet what to think, but I was surely feeling something buzzing in me.

(In the villages I always felt welcome.The kids loved to gather around and walk along with us. I loved their open and friendly ways. Their poverty did not seem to dampen their spirits. Something I still wonder about today.)

Waiting in the queues lined up in the dark and moving slowly as we were directed, reminded me of the waiting and moving in the roped off lines at magic mountain in Disneyworld.  Each move got us a little closer but it took time... 

After about an hour or more we moved into the darshan hall and were shown our own piece of the shiny marble floor we would sit on.  Being continually compressed together by the Sava people until we were just inches away from each other made me realize a fact of Indian life I would not get used to. The size of their personal space requirements is way too small for me.

(Inside the ashram living area. An open grass plot in the center broke up the business of the walkways, buildings and the darshan hall. The birds, monkeys and fragrant plant life gave a feeling of natures presence here as well.)

It was a huge open hall with many ornate Indian decorations covering the columns and walls.  Crystal chandeliers hanging gracefully from the ceiling provided some soft  lighting.  I was admiring the beauty when a small flock of birds swooped down into the hall singing their early morning songs. They continued to fly around singing to us.  It was lovely.  I could smell the fragrant flowers and tropical trees growing outside the four foot high exterior walls.  I sat cross legged on a pillow I had brought to ease the hardness of the marble floor. I waited silently.

The sky started to lighten as morning came nearer.  There was no coffee, no hot dogs, nothing to do or say. Just sit in silence. How Un-American I thought. I wrestled with how I would explain this to someone back home.  Just sitting here cross legged crammed together with hundreds of other people waiting for a guru to come out who was not going to speak any words of enlightenment but just walk around the hall in silence. How would I convey that just being in some guru’s energy field could be worth traveling half way around the world to do?  I noticed it felt good to be here. It did not make sense to my thinking mind, but I felt clear, more peaceful and centered just sitting here waiting.

(Our leader Kevin talking to one of the women in our group. There were always lots of questions from all of us trying to understand and process the experiences of this new world. Kevin was always willing to share his insights and ideas with us.)

 Finally our waiting was over. Around 7:30 the small bodied guru came through a door. He had a very large head of black curly hair, like an Afro cut. His long orange robe draped down to the floor covering his feet. He moved slowly on a red carpet walkway laid out in the aisles by the Sava people. The most catching features I was attracted to were his eyes. They were large brown, soft, warm and loving.  I was lucky that morning and was sitting near the front.  He slowly walked through the hall stopping to take prayer letters from some of the many people, their sea of arms reaching out with envelopes hoping theirs would be chosen.  He continued to walk slowly without speaking but looking deliberately at the crowd and smiling warmly. As he moved closer to where I was sitting I could feel the presence of his higher energy pouring into me ( 

I guess to try and communicate what it was like, I would compare it to sitting in Fenway Park for a Red Sox - Yankees playoff game, and compare how that feels to listening to the same game on an AM radio. There is most definitely a more exciting and bigger energy in Fenway Park. People who are not even avid fans get caught up in it by being there.  The ashram felt like a Fenway Park of loving energy. I could not help but get it. 

It was a heart opening experience, sweet smelling, and rose flower quality feeling. Like honey and nectar pouring into me. Not like a high feeling but a gentile softness inside me. Like a warm wind blowing gently through my body. As I sat there feeling this openness, I got much clearer as to why I was here.  When I left the hall that morning I felt a much more expanded feeling of my love, than when I came in.

I often saw people in the ashram sitting cross-legged for long periods of time meditating.  In the darshan hall people were sitting in silence or sometimes singing Indian songs they called banjans. You could hear people chanting Sanskrit mantras echoing throughout the ashram, repeating the same lines over and over again. A reminder to me there was profound feeling of spiritual energy going on around me. Walking to the dining hall I would read the hand painted signs on the building walls, each reminding us what we were here for. The one I still remember was “God’s presence is felt in silence”.  People all over the ashram were living their spiritual journeys, each one having their own unique experience of darshan as they searched for enlightenment.

(Our living area was brand new construction just opened. Most of us had three persons in a room. It was good to learn from each other what our feelings were from some of the work there. The general tone in the ashram was not a social one. I liked being having some other people in my room to talk to.)

I personally went looking to find some contentment in the hopes of slowing down the persistent push of western motivation and desire that kept me constantly hustling. I had always wondered why people go to India with some hope of learning the skill of contentment or some other practice that makes your life better. I felt grateful that I was here and could find out for myself.

Outside of the ashram walls was the village of Putahaparti.  It had grown up to serve the many visitors coming here. I also found a few spiritual teachers in the shops there.  You could spend time sitting in a small store having tea and listening to more words of wisdom from a shop keeper or learn something new from other ashram visitors often found sitting on the carpeted floors. There were a  few eating places, featuring both Indian and Tibetan food. The meals were decent and cheap.  Some of us would eat there for dinner and re-cap our daily experiences. It was fun and interesting.

I liked the shops with their shelves full of inexpensive handmade items of all descriptions.  Wood carvings, brass statues, crystal balls, semi -precious jewelry, clothing, rugs and more.  I enjoyed dickering with the locals haggling for the lowest price. Amidst the fun and learning I was having, there was another aspect of India however, a glaring and sobering feature of this village also. The presence of the overwhelming abject poverty in India that was everywhere I traveled.  I was saddened to watch the kids living like this.

One morning after darshan I could not wait to go back into the village and buy some more stuff. Maybe it was the higher energy working on my awareness or maybe it was divine intervention but I stopped for a moment and asked myself … why do I want to go into the village again and continue to do this buying thing. I felt a similarity to my life at home of earning money and then spending it, sometimes just because I could. I was here to look at change… so what did that mean at this moment. After a short consultation with Kevin he offered me the idea of staying in my room until I got the answer. Not what I wanted to hear but I was willing to try it.

In my room with the thoughts of being in the village running through my mind, trumping any ideas of sitting alone and waiting for some answer to show up, I was challenged to stay focused and just sit. In my discomfort, I began to realize, maybe this was what  "doing the work” meant.  As the desire to go to the village surfaced more and more, I honored my word to myself and stayed true by sitting in the room.  After a couple of long hours sitting there I started to see an answer. From down inside of me came the realization that I did not feel very confident revealing who I was there in that ashram.  Admitting to others that I was searching for something that I did not have in my life felt like a weakness in me.

Instead, I saw that talking about the good deals I could make and showing off my treasured items I had dragged back from the village was more fun, felt safer and much more comfortable than being vulnerable.  To get to know myself as a more gentle soul and then reveal that to others was a much harder task for me to do. Realization number one.

In the following days in the ashram I continued going to darshan, doing some reading and spending time meditating. Doing these things helped me get to know myself in a way that I was not familiar with. Learning what chanting mantras does for you, walking around reading the words of wisdom written on the walls, talking to other people about their experiences and breakthroughs  and becoming generally aware of my life added to my realization list and was a giant learning experience for me.

Probably the most important thing I learned there in that ashram was the profound experience I had of who I was capable of being. It gave me a benchmark for who I wanted to become. It has since translated into various life habits. Continually asking myself what self-love means when I want to beat myself up, what compassion looks like when I am frustrated,  how I might see gratitude for what I have… when I see someone who has more than I have. These are questions I work on daily to answer with love.  It started a process that will be a life long journey.

It has offered some new ways of choosing awareness over unconsciousness or auto pilot. It helps me realize sometimes life throws things at me and all I can do is respond in some way. I choose better responses and I have learned the value of silence.  I make better choices to the daily problems of life, knowing that each choice defines who I am at that moment... 

Was this a cure all for life? No.  Did my life change as Kevin said it would? Yes and yes.  Was it the way I had envisioned it to change? No and no.  Am I a better person today?  Yes.  I remember leaving the ashram with an excited new view of my life when I heard these words spoken to me.  “It is easy to go up on the mountain and sit and meditate; it is when you come back down into the village that you are challenged to keep on doing it.”  I would agree…It is a continual process… I have found those words to be true.

Comments (2)

Thank you for this article. It's so difficult to put a profound experience into words, to capture the enormity of our kinship across vast distance and cultural difference, and then to offer it openly to our safe, comfortable, not-so-gentle Western world. "A Fenway Park of loving energy": that's a true and cheerful metaphor for us who "just sit" here, waiting, like you, to rise with the Wave....

Susan | 2011-03-02 07:11:56

Beautiful article - thank you for sharing this aspect of your spiritual journey!

Roberta Weiner | 2011-03-01 15:17:19