Five Things I Learned from my Stay at an Ashram

 
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In 2013, I was fortunate enough to study abroad in India for my graduate school program. We traveled to different universities, hospitals, and learning facilities. In the middle of our journey, we spent a week staying at an ashram at the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. My week at the ashram was easily one of the most physically and spiritually challenging weeks of my life, and I am forever grateful for it. Here is what I learned:

Peace is a state of mind

To get to the ashram we had to travel nearly 8 hours by bus through some of the most impoverished areas I had ever seen. This experience forced me to face the reality of abject poverty, question my own materialism and purpose, and struggle with profound feelings of guilt. Aside from being incredibly homesick, my core as a human was completely shaken. Once we settled in at the ashram, however, I was determined not to waste my time toiling and instead worked diligently to reconcile all of the things I was feeling and channel them into peace. Our mind is incredibly powerful and will run amok if we let it. Manifesting peaceful thoughts and positive intentions took a lot of focus, but with practice, it became easier and allowed me to experience India in a more fulfilling way.  

Go with the flow

India is an unpredictable country. You may or may not have running water, traffic will not stop for you to cross the street, the power could go out any moment, a wifi signal is not a guarantee (even if it’s promised) and the bathroom probably isn’t stocked with toilet paper or soap. These unpredictable “discomforts” taught me to let go of all control and expectation.  If you are from the United States you are trained to “plan”.  And while yes, planning is an important part of meeting goals and achieving, it can absolutely ruin your ability to enjoy a place like India.  Growing comfortable with the idea of unpredictability really allowed me to fully enjoy my time, good and bad. 

Inner peace can ignite your sexual desire

I would consider myself to have an average sex drive so in no way did I expect that sex would be at the forefront of my mind while I was in India. At the ashram I found myself feeling incredibly sensual, more than anything I had ever felt at home. What I came to realize was, when you release yourself of worry, expectation, and control, your natural desires can once again come to the surface. I didn’t realize how often in my life I let external influences stifle my internal instincts.  It was a pleasant, albeit frustrating surprise.  

Sunrises are magical

I am a self-proclaimed night owl. I enjoy the quiet and isolation of the midnight hours. But at the ashram, we awoke at 4:30 am for morning prayer and meditation before breakfast at 6 am. That was a huge struggle for me. For the first few days I walked around like a zombie, I was miserable. The mornings were cold, foggy, dark and damp, I hated it. But by the 3rd morning while I was crossing through the gardens on my way back to my room the fog lifted and I could see the sun rising over the horizon.  I was alone, it was still and silent and for the first time at the ashram, I saw. I saw how spectacular the morning was. I allowed myself to be open to the moment and felt my heart swell with love and beauty.  It was magical. 

When you say nothing, you have nothing to say

During our time at the ashram, our days were filled with classes and lectures. During one particular lecture, we listened to a guru speak about being in “silence” and how when you stop speaking your mind can still. This is because when we speak, our mind is thinking of things to say. So if we stop speaking, our mind will stop thinking of things to say. Stilling your mind through silence allows you to be more present, worry less, and focus more on meditation and manifesting positive emotions. I try to practice silence a few times a week, even if only for a couple hours. It really does help silence my mind. 

I recognize that not everyone will have the opportunity to travel to India and stay in an ashram. I am incredibly grateful for the experience. The truth is, however, much of what I learned in India can easily be practiced at home and it costs nothing but your time, focus, and energy.  

Amy Sutherland