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Today a guest post from one of my ashram-mates: The Little-Orphan-Annie-haired Noelle of Be The Breath.  She’s an excellent dancer and a beautiful soul. And, I’ve seen her naked…

Ashram Lessons: 5. How to Survive an Ashram? Get Naked.

June  17, 2011: Journal Entry 1-I’ve only been here five minutes

“…Holy crap, what the heck was I thinking? It feels as if there is no working AC. The only thing more suffocating than the lack of air circulation is the chatter of my fellow devotees. Who are these people? Seriously, who cares if you can balance your entire body on your pinky finger? I can do a kartwheel, mofo. Good freakin’ lord, what have I done? Is there really no air?”

June 21, 2011- Journal Entry 5-Shifting

It’s odd. For the past several days, I pleaded with the universe to let me go home. Begged, cried in the 30 degree shower, and thought my heart was turning inside out and upon itself. Yet today, something shifted. I find myself wishing I could stay forever. Why?

June 30, 2011: Final Ashram Journal Entry-And now it’s time to say goodbye…

“Maybe I should suggest a commune. Then we could all stay together forever. Please universe, don’t make me go home. My peace is here; my heart is here. I don’t want to leave the protection of the ashram and these beautiful soul sisters. This has been one of the most important experiences of my life.”

Feeling a bit schizophrenic? For several weeks in the summer of 2011, I was too. My first days as an ashram resident led me to believe that a pamphlet on the proper fitting of a straitjacket should have been included in the required reading. I suppose feelings of insanity, anger, resentment, and frustration are to be expected when you are forced to strip out of what your mind thinks and move into what your heart knows. Pre-ashram, my mind created the challenges of finding an electrical outlet for my hair straightener, hoping I was flexible enough, and wondering what character I should portray to make these yogic folks accept me. My heart, in contrast, didn’t say much prior to the ashram, and really, I didn’t even know where the heck it was. At the time, I thought it didn’t matter. Who needs a heart for yoga? I never once considered that this experience would be difficult on any emotional level.

Surprise!

I quickly learned that in order to survive an ashram experience, one must find their heart, and—what the hell— get naked.

Metaphor, my friends, metaphor.

Prior to the ashram, the prevailing question in my mind was, “Who would you like me to be?” Give me some sort of impression as to what type of person you favor, and that is the person I will be. My true heart would tell you that I am an introvert in public, but a semi-pro/fake Javanese dancing fool around friends. Every morning I repeat the fifteen names of the former Soviet Republics and their capitals to assure myself that I still have some mental dexterity (Chisinau, Moldova, etc). It devastates me when other people feel embarrassed and I worry that I will never be good enough to change the world for the better.

Lame. Weird. Too exposed. Too honest. Too vulnerable. So really, who do you want me to be? I will clothe myself in whatever will make you like me more and show no hint of who I truly am.

I learned that doesn’t work in an ashram. In an ashram, the best attire is you. If you won’t strip down to who you really are, leaving all masks, veils, and facades behind you, the kind yogi will give you a hand with the prescription of some pretty tough self reflection.

Like a weird version of Ayurvedic Survivor, where the game-like challenges are endless meditations, yogic adaptations, and digestive manipulations, we all found ourselves in a desperate fight. There was no time or place to look pretty; we were too busy surviving. There was no need to put up an illusion because as in any great struggle, the real you will eventually emerge—the good and the bad. In those first couple of days at the ashram, I would have paid any amount of money to leave, any price to not have to feel what it was to really, truly be me. I didn’t know that person and it was uncomfortable to find her, but through meditation, contemplation, and yes, digestive imbalances, there she was.

Shockingly, the real me fell in love with the yogic folks. The real me felt embraced and liked by them. My occupation didn’t matter, just as they weren’t disgusted that I wore my curly “Little Orphan Annie” hair for those two weeks (I never did find that electric outlet). We laughed and cried together, said ridiculous things and sang/chanted, but most of all, we helped each other feel an innate okay-ness, even love, in being who we really are. They saw my heart, just as I saw theirs…and those hearts were bright and beautiful. In my newly cultivated freedom to say what I really feel, I can now state that I hope that those friends know what enormous roles they played in the story of my life…you can find their names in the index. I can also now freely state that I love them and the courage they gave me to be me…naked and all (again, metaphor. This isn’t that kind of post).

So where is the lesson in all of this? There is no true lesson, only a reinforcement of common knowledge. Be you, for that is the only way to true happiness. Free yourself, as no one can do it for you. The divine is within you, so have the courage to strip away all of the labels and facades that we assign ourselves and find it. Look in the mirror and be cool with what you see. People are good and kind; this includes you. Maybe most of all, when things are hard or require strength of heart, they are most likely a powerful catalyst towards positive change. Once upon a time, I learned all of this at an ashram. I will never forget it.

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