Ashram Diaries ~ #2

And then there was one week to go.

Inhale deeply… Exhale completely…

Three weeks of ashram life and I was adjusting. I practiced mindfully eating my 2-3 serves of brunch, dinner and peanut balls each day. I sung along to Jaya Ganesha and the other chants, sometimes in sanskrit and sometimes in a language that sounded more like my friend Raj’s jungle language, but always swaying and singing out of tune. I could make it through an entire satsang meditation with my eyes closed – thanks to my newly purchased mala beads and mantra initiation.

Part way through my time at the ashram, we were offered the opportunity to partake in a mantra initiation. A ceremony to commit yourself to a particular mantra and deepen your connection with it and therefore, deepen your commitment to meditating. God knows I needed all the help I could get with mediation.

I had a mantra that I’d been using and that resonated with me, so I signed up. On the morning of the initiation I woke well before the sun rose, bathed, dressed all in white, and loaded up a banana leaf with fruit and flowers as an offering for the deities at the temple. Those taking initiation sat serenely in the front alcove of the temple waiting to be called in hushed tones. One of the staff silently waved me and two other yogis over from our cold concrete seats. Instructions were whispered, smiles of support (approval/understanding/encouragement) were shared, before a gentle hand on the shoulder guided me towards the entrance to the mantra initiation ceremony.

Kaliani, one of the permanent staff/teachers of the ashram, stood beside the small gate that marked the entrance to the outdoor temple. She nodded formally at each of us as we stepped over the temple threshold. I saw the cloth mat just inside the gate. I mentally told myself to step carefully. I felt my bare foot touch the mat. And then I felt the mat slip on the tiled temple floor.

My arms instinctively rose up to try to catch my balance, all the while trying to keep the fruit and flower laden banana leaf balanced too.

‘Watch out Kaliani!’ My mind screamed. ‘Don’t fall on her, you’ll crush her!’

I could see the whole catastrophe unfolding, like some ridiculous scene from a badly written movie. This beautiful, calm, serene ceremony ruined by some gangly impostor yogi, who crushed her teacher to death by falling on her. The moment dragged on for what felt like forever, although in reality no one else probably even noticed that I was potentially about to kill Kaliani in a freak accident. And then I caught my balance on my back leg, brought my banana leaf back down and continued walking into the temple, crisis averted and Kaliani’s life safe.

The rest of the initiation went on smoothly. And afterwards I sat lost in meditation for the longest I’ve ever sat and meditated. Now every time I mediate I start off thinking of the almost disastrous event, but that everything turned out ok in the end. I realised that this applies to meditating in general. It might seem like a disaster at the time when the mind won’t settle, but in the end everything will be ok, because when we reach the end – we have finally reached a state of bliss.

By the end of week three I felt more blissful. My mind still chat frequently to me, but I was learning not to pay it any attention. The week just gone though had thrown a new mental challenge my way.

My muscles, tired of being ignored, decided to join in the internal conversation. Now normally they are reasonably co-operative. But then Mahadev, our asana teacher, said the “S” word and mentioned muscle memory and all hell broke loose inside my body.

‘Splits!’ My muscles screamed. ‘Splits! Who does this guy think he is trying to tell us about muscle memory.’

‘Shh-‘ I grunted at my muscles, as I gripped the mat with my toes trying to inch my foot further forward while wriggling by opposite leg back along the mat.

‘We remember 14 years of gymnastics training with coaches sitting on us to push us further into splits.’ My muscles ranted. ‘Tell that guy walking around to shove his muscle memory up hi-‘

‘Shh!’ I groaned, as sweat dripped down my arms and hands and my fingers holding my body weight up slipped and I sank further into the stretch.

‘Ignore your muscles,’ my mind chipped in. ‘You can do this easy. Remember pain is only in your mind. And since I’m your mind, I say have a glass of concrete and harden up princess.’

I wasn’t sure who to side with my mind or my body. My left knee cap dug into the yoga mat and concrete floor below it.

‘And swap legs,’ Mahadev said.

I exhaled loudly, pleased to not have to choose between my mind or my body. I pushed up through my hands trying to lift my hips.

Nothing.

I tried to pull my left knee in from behind me.

Still nothing.

‘Ha! Now you’re stuck. That’ll teach you for ignoring us.’ My mind said.

Inhale deeply… exhale completely…

I lifted both hands off the mat and fell to the side, crashing in a heap on the floor.

And then there was one week to go…

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