Ashram Diaries ~ #1

For the past month I’ve been living in an Ashram in the South of India. The following is a short story I wrote & performed for the “Saturday Night Talent Show”. This story is dedicated to all my fellow TTC yogi’s. Om Namah Shivaya


I have had an Elizabeth Gilbert moment. Three of them in fact.

Now before I go any further, I should check if you know who Elizabeth Gilbert is? She’s that 30-something-year old woman from New York who divorced her husband and set off to find herself in Italy, India and Indonesia, and then wrote about it in the international best-seller Eat, Pray, Love.

I have spent the better part of this year analysing every part of this book. Every piece of dialogue, paragraph, sentence, and word choice was torn apart and dissected as part of my thesis for university on travel writing by women. After such close scrutiny, the book annoys me… and so does Elizabeth Gilbert.

It was my second day at the ashram, a Sunday. I was excited and overwhelmed all at the same time to finally be in India and starting my spiritual journey. The morning began with a ceremony by the lake to wash the statue of the deity, Krishna, followed by a celebration banquet for brunch. Curries and sauces and sweet treats in vibrant shades of pink, white and yellow were heaped on broad green banana leaves.  Within seconds of the opening prayer, I’d shovelled, inhaled, and destroyed the divine spread of food. I took a second helping. And then a third. I don’t remember chewing, just slurping down as much food as I could. It was like I’d never eaten a meal before.

Mindful eating...

Mindful eating…

Then, while licking my fingers clean, the pain in my stomach settled in. I wasn’t sure I could walk back to the dorm. Maybe I could roll. My mind laughed at me. I realised I’d just had “Elizabeth Gilbert Moment #1.”

She wrote about a similar experience. In fact, she was given the nickname “groceries” because she ate so much food and ate it loudly. At the time I’d thought she was just a pig with no self-control. Now here I was doing the exact same thing.

Why had I not learnt this lesson from her? Was it so difficult that I could not remember to eat slowly and practice mindful eating?

“Elizabeth Gilbert Moment #2” came shortly after. Satsang that night actually (Satsang – meditation/chanting – happens twice daily at 6am & 8pm and lasts for at least 1 1/2 hours). As I sat cross-legged on my rolled up yoga mat, cushions propping up my aching knees, I listened to the soothing voice instructing me through the microphone to inhale… and exhale… then in silence, chant a mantra and draw my attention to the point between my eyebrows.

I followed these instructions. My mind joined in on the meditation.

“Ok, Emma, this is what you came here for, to take this meditation stuff seriously,” my mind said. “You need to focus. On your third eye. Actually, focus on your heart centre, as it is where emotional people focus during meditation, and you are an emotional person. You should buy some of those beads tomorrow too. Everyone who meditates seriously has those beads. ”

I nodded in agreement.

“Don’t nod,” my mind said. “Serious meditation requires complete stillness.”

I breathed gently in through my nose, lengthening my spine.

“Stillness means that you can’t slap that mosquito that is biting you on your left ankle right now.”

I bit my bottom lip feeling the sting. My knees ached and my hips had pins and needles. The insects outside the hall hummed loudly chanting their own mantra.

“Surely it’s been half an hour,” my mind said.

I opened one eye and slowly turned around to look at the clock on the wall at the back of the hall… 8:08pm.

Hadn’t I learnt anything from reading Eat, Pray, Love? When Elizabeth Gilbert spent her mediation sessions planning and decorating her meditation room in her non-existent apartment in New York, I’d scoffed at her. Now here I was having read about her experiences multiple times and still making the same mistakes. But the lessons had not sunk in yet.



“Elizabeth Gilbert Moment #3” took even less time to eventuate. It was during Jaya Ganesha (first chant sung during Satsang) and my mind chipped in, “Urgh, not this singing to God stuff again!”

I couldn’t keep up. I didn’t know what the words meant, let alone how to pronounce them. How was everyone else singing along so easily – swaying and clapping in time? I could hear my claps out of sync with everyone else’s.

Jaya Ganesha

Jaya Ganesha

It was at this point, staring in frustration at the daily chant book on the floor in front of me, that I started to remember bits of what I’d read in Eat, Pray, Love.

“How did she connect to God?” I asked my mind.

“Why are you asking me? You read the book too,” my mind said. “Or weren’t you paying attention?”

The chanting picked up in pace and the drums echoed through the hall and up my spine. I exhaled deeply and I remembered that God is not some religious relic sitting high up on a cloud frowning down over me. God is with every living being. Within every living being. To connect I needed to set my devotions to something that was meaningful to me, not to a language I didn’t understand, and a religion  stereotype that didn’t resonate with me.

I thought of my family back home.

Inhale… exhale…

I picked up the chant book and focused on the words, ready to try again.

Over the last week during lectures and Satsang at the ashram, it has been mentioned that we gain knowledge only by experience, prior to that it is just information. This, I realised, was part of the reason why I’d found Elizabeth Gilbert, and Eat, Pray, Love, so irritating. I hadn’t yet experienced what she was writing about, and therefore didn’t completely understand it. I couldn’t fully comprehend the context, the emotions, or have a deeper awareness of the experiences until I had learnt the lessons my self.

And this I suppose is why we come to an ashram. To experience first hand the lessons that will bring us knowledge of the self, of God, of happiness, and ultimately, one step closer to attaining inner peace.



4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. justanotheryogini
    Dec 11, 2014 @ 12:11:27

    Looked for a YouTube version of Jai Ganesha, because I missed the chanting. A whole month went by and never thought at the time, that I’d see this day!


  2. CultFit
    Dec 11, 2014 @ 14:26:35

    Be inspired!


  3. Jill
    Dec 11, 2014 @ 21:12:06

    Welcome to my world.
    Breathe in, now the fun begins, now that you are home. Breathe out, time to fit devotional time into your daily life. Breathe in, daily life is about priorities, Breathe out, to truly finding the daily formula that sits right with you is the challenge. Breathe out, to find that inner peace is the answer to discovering the answers.
    Om Shanti Shanti


    • Emma
      Dec 11, 2014 @ 21:22:57

      Yes the challenge of incorporating the lessons learnt at the ashram into home life will take some time and trial and error to adjust to. I am very fortunate to have a very supportive partner. He has suddenly become a vegetarian too (although I think he is very excited to not have to cook and will therefore eat anything I make right now!!) & had his first yoga class last night so that I could practice teaching someone. I’ve learnt to take each day slowly and know that I will settle into a routine only through handwork and self-motivation. Much Love & light to you Jill as we continue on the spiritual journey xx


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