some time ago, I wrote an article about the Amritapuri ashram and other ashrams in general titled “Ashram Life”. Today, I am ready to disclose my experience running an ashram in my own family home. Kindly excuse my politically incorrect language in some abstracts of this article. Maybe it will sound bias, but I feel that I have to be bias (exclusive) if I want to run the ashram sincerely and at the same time, be there for my family and preserve my own health. Namaste and cheers!
The word ashram comes from Sanskrit āśramaḥ: meaning “penance, austerity”. When translating from Sanskrit we should never take the literal meaning as final as it is often misleading. This is the reason why an interpretation of classical Vedic scriptures is much more important than the scripture itself.
Ashram is a place of retreat and self-discipline. With self-discipline I mean mainly the discipline of our own mind. Some people interpret an ashram as an abode of peace, learning (mainly about yourself) and simple living. For others it might be one of many points to tick off on their bucket list while travelling in India and the third category seeking cheap accommodation and quality food while not being ready to adjust, comply or do any action of a community spirit. (Please note my biased tone already 😉 ) Why would they want to stay at such a “prison” anyway, where they cannot do as they wish? I often ask myself the same question….
The first category of humble seekers of truth go with the flow and can accept our rules and changes without any resistance or struggle. The second category are often travellers that do not have much yoga experience and require our full attention and care. This kind of work is not always rewarding as their stay normally doesn’t exceed 3 days and as a beginner you cannot experience the real benefit of yoga in the course of just 3 days. Still sometimes, rarely people do benefit and that keeps me going, thinking that even a minor benefit and a wind of change in their mind is worth all the effort!
Now, what I want to say is, that I strongly discourage the third category to stay with us. Why? People with low theoretical knowledge and strong ego (sense of self: my needs, my rights) may think that their knowledge is incomplete and try to adjust or change. However, people with high theoretical knowledge and strong ego think that their way is the only way and not only they are not ready to adjust, but they also try to convince others of their truth. Often as a paradox, they are themselves yoga teachers who had been teaching yoga for many years. In that case I ask myself: “What have they been teaching all these years and mainly practicing themselves if they hadn’t mastered even the yamas and niyamas (behavioural codex relating to oneself and to others according to the sage Patanjali like non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing etc.)? Nobody is perfect, I am also not able to practice non-violence 100%. Maybe only Mahatma Gandhi was. Yet, if someone is bargaining about the price of their stay and arguing that he didn’t have all three meals on that day while we lent him a bicycle and searched for a train connection????!!!! Him being a yoga teacher for more than 25 years and a life coach, trying to break every single rule we have at the ashram and at the end of his 4 nights trying to bargain for a few hundred rupees at a place where we offer community yoga classes and community one year teacher training course. Should I tell you his name, date of birth and passport number? Maybe not. Not because I don’t want to insult him. Sometimes insulting or directly challenging someone brings the desired change of perspective for the sake of humanity. However, not in the case of the third category of high theoretical knowledge and a “skyscraper ego”. In this case, you have to say “svaha” (thank you Šárka Konečná) – the most commonly used word during retreats and workshops meaning “past, gone, let go, chuck it overboard” – and write an article to ventilate your emotions. 😉
This is the time when I feel nearly ashamed for my European descent, where our modern culture and education work hard on inflating the ego to the heights of a skyscraper. This is also the time where I remember what Swami Dayananda once said: “Good heart is not enough, you have to be intelligent also.” Yes, I had to learn this during the past 7 years running Arsha Yoga, establishing a place where East and West meet and people coming often with a big burden on their shoulders called life and looking for instant solutions to their problems – reaching out with the loving heart to those in need and showing the hard stone face to those we cannot help or teach. And all this while sharing a common living space and having a family also – being there for my small daughter during every spare minute and taking care of our partnership life. Often, we literally drop into our bed lying side by side and just acknowledging the familiar face of each other without having the energy to exchange even a few words.
Anyway, back to the real-life scenario. After observing the behaviour of this particular guest for the past 4 days, I was expecting a bargaining situation upon his departure and I was preparing an answer while taking a shower this morning. Then, following the recommendation of Swami Dayananda and in terms of protecting my own health and my family’s well being, my answer was: “This is our price for 4 nights and as a yoga place I don’t accept bargaining, but if you cannot give from the heart, I leave the donation up to you. You don’t have to give any money if you don’t feel like it.” Full stop, my dear friends! No more discussion! I think I did a good job, considering that 7 years ago I was not even able to say “NO” to anyone. I still recall when my dear friend, my first real yoga teacher and now calling her sister of the tribe 😉 – Shakti Simone Lehner from Yoga Vidya Speyer in Germany – used to give me as an example of selfless service to others by telling that I was always ready to jump in as substitute when other teachers cancelled. The secret of it all was that I was just not able to say no!!! :):):)
Conclusion: we are never done. There is always something to improve. And maybe next time I can react with less emotional turbulence? And now it’s over. Life goes on!