After a 28 hour voyage I arrived at ISHA (www.ishafoundation.org). A night train, a 6 hour layover, a day train and a bus across India up into the Vienijeri foothills (the total in cost came to approximately $9) completed my journey.
It was a busy day, the day before Mahashivaratri, and many people were arriving here to attend a concert with world famous musician Siraj. He played a traditional Indian instrument (durge? Ill look it up and add it for you dedicated readers later) and is the 21st generation of his family in the lineage of this craft. There were thousands of hand-lit candles burning behind him and it was a beautiful night.
The Isha Ashram grounds are spectacular. Well maintained, well placed, open, airy, spiritual, charged- it is the first ashram I have been to that feels how I imagined an ashram would feel. Granted I’ve only been to two ;). Truly, it is probably one of the most presently active spiritual spaces I have attended. I have been to lots of temples, cathedrals, churches, covens, etc- but really none of them were like this or were fully functional and participatory on this scale of devotion to the message the living guru, Sadhguru, is sending out. The ashram is open to all religions and ways of life and puts forth a message of living to your fullest potential. You can go to their website to learn more
( www.ishafoundation.org ). It is a slightly strict environment – general rules include that you are to be covered down to your ankles and shirts must cover the shoulders, men and women are separated, even husband and wife are asked to refrain from hand holding and hugging out of respect for the brahmancherries (monks) that live here. No smoking. No drinking. Meals to be taken in silence. No photographs etc. Even with these limitations in place I still found it to be a pleasant and moving place. It really was not too much to ask considering what was being offered.
Each building, offering, statue and space is consecrated and carried out with noted intention. Sounds of people doing their personal practice are everywhere. Bird calls, dog barks, and breath sounds ( all utilized within the different meditations ) fill the dorm and most other shared spaces. And the level of devotion literally seeps from each and every opening. I enjoyed partaking in their daily activities bathing in the theetikum- this vast water-filled hall emerges as you slowly descend a staircase fit for the Roman Empire. A bathing pool with a solid piece of charged mercury bound in copper, wrapped in a snake holds space in the middle and a waterfall plunges down the far wall. An epic mural creates a universe above you and slats of sunshine pour down at the right time of day. Experiencing the sound initiation for the incredibly charged (and emotionally, visually, acoustically, architecturally pleasing ) space the Dhyanalinga was another of my favorite activities. A 25 minute sound meditation open to all twice a day.
As far as India goes in general. I relish the moment each day when the sun drops behind the mountain and a cool wave of breeze sweeps the land. I love sunset and watching the bats start to flitter about. I never tire of the impeccable knack the sky has for changing full color spectrums within a moments notice. I love the smell of fresh jasmine blossoms in my hair, arranged in offerings on the ground, and tucked into the folds of my saree. I actually really get a kick out of the times when India reminds me of Burning Man and thankful I have learned how to deal with the dust, art cars, and psychedelic buses- the concept of radical self-reliance also comes in handy.
I adore how everytime I think I wrapped my saree right out of the 50+ times I have wrapped it- I am constantly stopped by Indian woman who smile, click their tongue and bobble their head at me and then kindly start unwrapping my ongoing learning process and re-tuck each and every fold of this 6 meter fabric. Wrapping a saree is truly a sadhana of it’s own – everytime I do it I learn something new, everytime I think I have it down I learn that this is only the beginning. Throughout life, throughout travel, throughout dance, I am constantly reminded that I truly need to just be where I am at and that I earn nothing from skipping ahead and no matter how badly I want to be at this other level, other place, next level up- that I am only prolonging the process of getting there by not being in the space where I am at in this very moment in time. It’s a lesson I am faced with over and over again- and I am thankful for it. . . Even though at times it is not what I want to believe and it can be harsh to accept- it is the only truth. And when I give in and let these true masters of saree wrapping teach me a thing or five I know I am better off for it. So intricate, such a devotion. Each and every act here is an act of devotion. The dance, the food, the sarees, how you place your shoes, the way you sweep the grass, how you greet each moment- India is such a devotional place that you really can’t ignore it.
Thank you Mama India I appreciate your lessons.