Updated: Nov 3, 2018
1.5 hours from Terrace airport, hidden in the British Columbian rainforest, a 5km bumpy trail leads to Anuttara Ashram. The road initially feels uncomfortable, but the longer it continues, the easier it is to sink into the rhythm of the bumps. At least, this was my experience at the start of June when I took my first journey to this special yoga community, far away from the civilized world.
After being shaken about a little in the back of the car and spotting some black bears along the way, the ashram appeared. At that stage, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that I had to have an open mind. Making a booking online can feel a little daunting at times. I’ve had some let-downs in the past. So I set my expectations low, even whilst having silent hopes of finding a yoga community with like-minded people midst a natural environment who follow a regular yoga and meditation practise. As I got acquainted with the new environment, I learned that the ashram really does what it says it does - the information on the website depicts the reality of the experience. Or perhaps, it doesn’t. Only because the experience does MORE than what it says. Needless to say, almost instantly, my hopes were met and my expectations were well-exceeded.
Set in the rainforest with snow-peaked mountains framing almost every view, I felt I had landed in a different world.
Set in the rainforest with snow-peaked mountains framing almost every view, I felt I had landed in a different world. As the days came to unfold, I found that the wilder setting, the community spirit, the schedule of the day, the style of yoga, the spiritual activities, the vegan food and the encouragement for self-discovery were factors that work together to create a sacred space and place. Working towards a more conscious life, can become an actual experience, rather than a wish or a dream projected into the future and, quite often, never brought into being. The daily routine gives a sense of familiarity and certainty, which can be essential, especially if personal issues cause a temporary unsettled mind or some emotional discomfort. Doing karma yoga 5 days per week gives all residents the opportunity to contribute to the community. All tasks have equal importance and allow the ashram to run smoothly. I found something deeply satisfying when doing the different ‘chores’, knowing that the act of doing the job, was the reward in itself. Regular satsangs, weekly kirtans, daily yoga classes and meditation sittings and one weekday of silence combine to feed the spirit of even those who claim to not be ‘spiritual’.
one weekday of silence combine to feed the spirit of even those who claim to not be ‘spiritual’.
Throughout my time at the ashram, different residents arrived without any previous experience with meditation and yoga. Yet, something touched their hearts and opened them up to finding more meaning in life – a sense that is easily overshadowed by the pace of the modern world.
(A)n expansive state of mind is easily triggered and the natural world serves as a precious and continuous reminder of the immensity of the universe.
The location on its own is quite overwhelming: an expansive state of mind is easily triggered and the natural world serves as a precious and continuous reminder of the immensity of the universe. The silence that accompanies such beauty is overpowering and worries suddenly seem so small. Even a state of disbelief can emerge. I had this inner voice constantly saying: ‘this place is a golden gem’ and I felt incredibly grateful that I took a leap of faith into the unknown. I realized it really is true that the outside and inside world are connected. The environment can stimulate and encourage an inner stillness. But the mind won’t instantly and always be calm. The body becomes more relaxed and with that, the inner world is more clear. Of course, the pains and chaos of the mind are also magnified. So the stillness is needed perhaps in order that the volume of the inner noise seems louder, overbearing, inescapable and thus demanding one’s attention. Eventually the noise then becomes something that must be worked on and with, through both yoga practise and meditation, for the sake of cultivating a sense of inner peace. This can be confronting but that’s also the beauty, the growth and the lessons that need to be learned and often times, it’s the deeper reason for following to inner longing that pulls a person away from the demands of day-to-day life and into a retreat setting, in order to get back to basics, and to remember what truly matters in life: a connection to something beyond our mind, emotions and physical body.
I started to feel the ashram was a place that would bring me closer to myself again.
Slowly I started to feel the ashram was a place that would bring me closer to myself again. For having just come out of an academic semester that almost pushed me to burn-out on several occasions – due to self-neglect, a preoccupation with external results in the hope of being validated by figures of authority – I found myself distant from what I once felt was really ‘me’. Prior to arriving at the ashram, that sense of being connected to my inner world had become a distant memory. I felt I was on an endless pursuit of achievements, trying to meet the next deadline. By stepping away from the faster pace, I could see even more clearly that the ‘norm’ of the modern world encourages a schedule that is overloaded, a to-do list that is long and never-ending, a level of stress that is unhealthy, not forgetting an internet, social media and caffeine addiction. Coming to the ashram was an instant disconnect from the lists, stress and addictions.For this reason, I felt I had landed in a surreal place. At the same time, I was surprised by how easily I left my life behind. My mind was only engaged and focused on the community, first and foremost. My main objective each day was to help and contribute: how can I serve the place I’m in? How can I help others? How can I contribute? This focus made me forget about myself, my worries and the trivial concerns that preoccupied me up to the moment of entering the ashram. By placing myself in such an environment and choosing to disconnect from the lifestyle that was draining me of my will to live, I was able to unblock myself spiritually. Because, without even knowing, I’d become uninspired and stuck over the past years. So, being presented with different teachings, meditation, yoga and receiving the support I needed throughout the first 2 weeks, I was able to perceive my internal struggles, that I’ve been facing for years on end, from a different angle.
I was able to unblock myself spiritually... without even knowing, I’d become uninspired and stuck over the past years.
Slowly I was able to start moving beyond these painful patterns. The backbones of the ashram, Thomas and Artemis, were inspirational and insightful throughout the process of opening-up to something new. Moving through any blockages will inevitably bring confusion and self-doubt to the surface. Yet, this is a safe space to explore one’s own spiritual questions. As the first 2 weeks passed, I felt strongly that the ashram had more to teach me than I first-off imagined. With that realization, a sense of urgency came over me. So I followed my feeling and extended my stay, with the help of both Artemis and Thomas. Eventually I felt confident enough to pursue the Yoga Teacher Training (this is reflection for a later date).
On a finishing note, I have to mention the importance of communal life.
When a group of people live together and focus on walking a spiritual path, a healing environment is automatically created. That can be soothing enough to refuel anybody from the stresses of modern life.
Up to arriving at the ashram, I was ignorant and oblivious to what it means to live in a community and unaware of the extent to which modern societies seem to disvalue this way of living. In larger towns and cities especially, where we live paradoxically ‘on top of each other’ yet individualistic and separate from each other, we’re inevitably separate from ourselves. It’s therefore not surprising that we easily feel lost, alone and depressed, even when 1000s of people surround us. For me, coming to this particular yoga community, made me feel instantly a part of a family. This was daunting at first. Especially because I didn’t expect the sense of solidarity amongst a group of individuals who were strangers up to so recently, to be so strong. In ways this can encourage attachment, but in equal measures it teaches detachment. Being social beings, on a path that would also encourage regular times of solitude, we are encouraged to seek a balance between being both attached and detached, whilst still being in this world. These lessons are vital, when integrating back into our daily lives.
It’s profound how much change can occur within a short space of time. This is a sure sign of how deep the experience at the ashram can take a person, if they open up and embrace it wholeheartedly, even in the face of inner obstacles.
The deeper a person goes into themselves, the more the perception of time changes. It often expands and extends without any conscious effort and so increasing the value of life itself. What a gift to experience something that can change the course of a life in what feels like the blink of an eye.