When first coming to India, I had only intended to stay for one year.
But that is clearly not what life had in store for me.
Through a series of unexpected events, I found my passion for Heartfulness meditation. Upon visiting the Kanha Shanti Vanam ashram in Hyderabad, myself and another YIF-er, Ankur, discovered that another fellowship had just started within the meditation organisation. We applied and were accepted. And so, with the ink of the final chapter of my YIF journey not even completely dry and with a sudden crash landing back to Ireland to process another visa and to visit family, I embarked on a new adventure – joining the Param Dham ashram in Bangalore.
The Heartfulness Fellowship is a year-long residential fellowship which combines intensive meditation practise with work in one of the organisation’s interest areas. Interest areas include HFN Life, school connect, corporate outreach, NGO outreach, wellness and yoga, teacher, training programs, writing and editing department, Green organic Kanha farming and Brighter Minds.
Fellows are posted to different ashrams across the country including Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Pune and Mumbai and work under the guidance of a mentor to realize certain projects. During this time, it is hoped that fellows will also deepen their practise and become Heartfulness ‘Ambassadors’ in the fullest sense. I have been posted in the Brighter Minds’ team, an amazing educational intervention which deserves a blog-post in its own right.
In ashrams nothing is enforced but there are a series of guidelines or ‘maxims’ which are subtly suggested to you to follow and which structure your daily routine. One such maxim is to rise before dawn and offer prayer. Our first morning group meditation (or ‘satsang’) begins at 6.30am and lasts between 45 minutes and one hour in the meditation hall. Another fellow and I usually try to squeeze in a yoga session before this. Personal meditation is also advised as well as becoming more grounded in the literature of Sahaj Marg. Luckily, we have a fully stocked library at our disposal. Another maxim is to be happy with what you have been given to eat, to eat in a prayerful state and to eat just that which is required for your existence. Food is simple and nutritious and makes a welcome change from oily, mass-produced Mess food. And there is chai – lots of chai. Wednesday and Sunday also have evening satsangs. On Sundays, a whole host of people arrive to meditate together, and breakfast is served afterwards. Sunday is usually spent as a day of meditation and quiet reflection. Lights are out every night by 9.30pm.
I’m beginning to understand that each ashram has its own unique personality comprised of the many colourful personalities within it. Param Dham ashram is inter-generational, made up primarily of senior citizens who have taken up residency alongside 5 fellows ranging between the ages of 23-28. Having never lived in a joint family before, I like to think that this is a taste of it. The older residents have taken me under their wing, helping me out in the initial stages when everything was new and difficult to navigate. Upon seeing me trodding downstairs, with sodden clothes in hand which had fallen off the wash-line, Sudha aunty gave me a handful of her pegs to tide me over until I could get my own. When wondering where I should start with the Sahaj Marg literature, Ana uncle sat me down over chai and chalked out a comprehensive guide of what to start with. They gently nudged me to conform to the ashram culture of doing things. One evening, when I tried to wear pyjamas to dinner, I was swiftly told that it was against the ashram ethos. I scurried back to my room with my tail between my legs not knowing what to make of this sudden imposition.
Still, some of the rules I find hard to digest, being naturally suspicious of authority. I think Irish people tend to carry the scars of institutional trauma deep within our collective consciousness. Blindly following rules, particularly when they pertain to conservative dress, is not something that I readily accept. One of the elder residents admitted to me that this has “nothing to do with spirituality but is just a cultural norm.” I needed to hear that. I await the day where women, especially, may wear what they want to wear without fear, inside and outside ashrams. We are all just flesh and bone. Bodies.
Banaglore weather is beautiful and blustery. It rains often, and I relish in the pitter-patter of rainfall on the ashram roof. The long commute to the office in traffic has presented welcome opportunities to read and listen to podcasts. If I make it back from the offices in time for sunset, I sit on the ashram roof and watch the sun sink into the horizon. A new cactus sits proudly on my windowsill and has begun to sprout a bud.
‘Param Dham’, originates from a conversation between Arjuna and Lord Krishna in the Gita. It means ‘That place to which you reach and from which you don’t return, that is my Paramdham, my Divine Abode’ (yad gatvaa nanivartante, tad dhaamaparamammamah).
This will be my home for the next year. In my own way, I feel a sense of belongingness.