Finally, I made it to the ashram. Ever since reading Eat, Pray, Love and being jealous of Elizabeth Gilbert's journey, I dreamed of jumping out of my life for a while and hanging out in India with super spiritual people and a guru who would fill me up with tranquility.
I was a little pissed off at Elizabeth, too, because when I read her book I was raising two small kids at the time and the possibility that I could take off after hitting rock bottom was a fairytale. Responsible moms don't hang with gurus and their disciples, or so I told myself.
The morning I walked out of my home for the ashram, my husband and 12-year-old son, who was sitting in the back seat with his backpack and soccer cleats, dropped me at a taxi stand in torrential rain. God wasn't going to make easy for me to eat, pray, love it.
Before I opened the door to our minivan I reminded my husband: "Don't forget Aden has soccer practice after school today, Jacob is babysitting next Friday, both kids need long pants for the cool fall weather, and please call my mother to make sure she's okay." He nodded dutifully.
Then I made a mad dash for the taxi as he and Aden shouted, "Have fun!"
Fun? Oh, yes, extended fun had been on my to-list for a while, and here I was finally getting it.
When I landed several hours later in Orlando it was clear I was the only one on the plane headed to an ashram for 10 days. The smell was all Disneyworld, not the exotic spices and colorful sights of India or Indonesia like Elizabeth's journey. I got the busy-mom-goes-to-an-ashram-special: Florida.
The ashram was a two hour drive from the airport. I shared a rental car with three others who were headed there, too: a dreadlocked yoga teacher from Denver; a retired woman from Canada; and a middle-aged woman like me from Baltimore. The woman from Baltimore had been to the ashram before.
Her praise for the guru at the ashram, Yogi Amrit Desai, otherwise known as Gurudev, was gushing.
"Gurudev is my guru. I love him. He is incredible. I love him. I am honored to be in his presence. He's amazing. You'll see. You'll love him, too."
I listened politely in the back seat but I wasn't sold. Guru worship seemed ridiculous to me. I knew I wanted an ashram, I wanted a spiritual community, but the guru was the biggest reason I almost didn't show up. Who did he think he was? And especially this guru, who years ago was thrown out of his ashram for misconduct.
That's between his family and the people he hurt, the Baltimore woman responded. To me he's my guru and I love him.
When we arrived at the ashram dinner was being served: dhal, brown rice and salad. I let go of the guru talk and enjoyed my first evening of ashram food thankful that I didn't have to prepare the meal.
There was no cell service which meant I couldn't call my family. I could feel the sympathetic branch of my nervous system wanting to scream "Are you joking? What is this -- a prison?!" Sure, I wanted spirituality, but I wasn't looking for a hardcore experience without technology.
Nothing to do, no one to think about for 10 days except myself was such departure from normal that I felt like an infant taking its first steps. Yet despite my initial heart palpitations about the technology, I knew the ashram was exactly what I needed -- except for the guru, of course. I dreaded the moment I would see him. The ornate-robe-and-mala-wearing guru. Yuck.
My car-mate's words kept moving through my head.
"I love him. He is incredible. I love him. I am honored to be in his presence. He's amazing. You'll see. You'll love him, too."
I'm not a worshipper, I told myself. I believe in God, but I don't worship God or Krishna or Buddha. I always thought guru worshipping was for people who are emotionally unstable, who need someone to tell them how to live their lives. I'm the kind of person who slams the door on Jehovah Witnesses.
I came to the ashram to do yoga, get some peace and quiet, and take a training. To have a break from my busy life. Ten days. Healthy food, silence, no carpools. I could take or leave the guru.
The morning after we arrived, before the guru walked in for the first talk, his daughter pointed out the photos on the wall of the guru's guru and the guru's guru's guru.
Oh great, I thought. A guru fest.
"Don't be put off by the 'dressings' around here," Kamani Desai said. "Keep an open mind. You will be surprised what lies beyond the dressing."
Then the 81-year-old guru walked in. Cream-colored tunic, two pearl-colored malas around his neck, a thin body, olive-skinned, grey hair and a bounce in his step.
Hands in prayer position.
Bow to guru masters.
Prayer of Intention:
Lead me from the unreal to the real;
Lead me from darkness to light;
Lead me from time-bound consciousness to a timeless state of being
After that Gurudev spoke.
In 10 days here is what I learned:
1. You've got to access a whole new part of you to solve the problems you've been trying to solve your whole life.
2. Instead of checking whether you like something from your head, do it from your heart.
3. The address, phone number, and email of God are available. Connect to the power of the soul and you're with God.
4. Nobody can do anything to you without you doing it to yourself. You are the creator of every experience you have had or will have.
5. Most of the turmoil we experience comes from fighting with the oneness of life and trying to get to peace and harmony and love. Ultimately you have to stop asking for love or anything else from outside yourself -- love is within.
6. Energy follow attention. Your energy -- or prana/breath -- in your body will do whatever you say. If you use it to get upset with your friend it will go for it.
7. You mess up your world by thinking "I am anger," when you are not anger.
8. People have sleep problems and sex problems because of a disconnection from love within.
9. You're exhausted looking for yourself everywhere.
10. Anything you create outside yourself can be sold. If you create it inside no one can sell it.
11. College helps you get a job, not enlightenment.
12. Don't work for world peace. Instead find peace within. Too many people work for world peace but don't have inner peace.
13. Bliss is beyond pleasure and pain.
14. People think science will free you from suffering, but more people die from medical treatment. It's not the research that's wrong -- it's how we use it.
15. If you use one side of polarity in excess you loose the balance. We need both the sun and the moon.
16. If you want your husband to change you're not upset with him you're upset with his karma.
17. When you sleep the divine intelligence of God is working in your body. But...
18. When you sleep you cannot untap the karma in your body. Yoga nidra meditation -- a sleep based meditation technique -- undoes the karma in your body.
19. Every challenge is not a challenge, it's an opportunity.
20. Nobody messes up your life.
21. The reason you are not happy is because you're attached to whom you are not. You need to return to the truth of who you are.
22. Eighty percent of suffering is caused by stress.
23. Old age is the golden age to live in less suffering.
24. If you're stuck in ego-mind you're not going to be happy. You'll die with a big to-do list for your next incarnation.
25. You are married to your own higher self.
26. If you're in harmony, you're in harmony with everyone.
27. Relaxation happens naturally and spontaneously when you're in the flow.
28. Good and bad doesn't exist in reality. By calling it good-bad you're stuck. If you let go everything is just the way it is.
29. If you're totally present where ever you are then it doesn't matter where you are.
30. When you resist being in traffic the resistance doesn't make you go home faster.
31. If you don't mind your mind your mind is not a problem.
32. In your life you're engaged with looking for who you are on the outside instead of inside, which is where you've always been.
33. You'll be in conflict if you try to be in harmony with another person and deny the disharmony in you.
34. Don't get addicted to your kids. Love them, but fulfill your own dreams, not theirs.
35. You're not the time-bound past, you're timeless. The problem with human beings is we identify with time bound memories trying to solve the past with the future. Our actions should arise from a timeless state of being.
36. All the problems of our past can only be solved by the present. Let go of the memory, and your problems are solved.
37. If you're always in conflict with present you're never going to solve suffering.
38. If you're angry with yourself the whole world will be angry with you.
39. If you can't make a truth universal then it's a lie.
40. Accept yourself just the way you are.
41. Release everyone from blame in your life.
42. You must digest the experience where you got hurt and let it go.
43. Before you marry another person, get married to your own self first.
44. Your self image is a parasite that sucks your blood away.
45. People's problems are imaginary.
46. You have the final word about accepting yourself.
47. Connect to the source of love within in. Love is who you are. Harmony is who you are. Unity is who you are.
48. When you need to make a decision ask yourself: would my choice make me feel in harmony with me?
49. Even if you have to betray a situation, do what enlivens your soul.
50. Aim for a spiritual marriage -- marry someone who resonates with the truth of who you are.
51. Happiness and misery are all happening in your mind. Nowhere else.
52. People see objects as a medium to find love.
53. Sex is part of the instinctive drive for union, but people have a psychological drive for union and this is where the whole error begins because it comes from the outside. Strive for an energetic union. This comes from the inside.
54. You are whole and complete as you are.
55. Your body is the temple of God. Your problems don't start with your problems and then get solved when you enter a temple. You already are the temple.
56. You are God in disguise. You are love in disguise.
57. We keep trying to be better than other, but the lie is that there is no other.
58. Find out who you are rather than who you are not.
59. A soul mate is when you use your external mate to meet with the soul you are.
60. When you depend on another person to show you who you are not you're in a great relationship.
61. Addictions are you acting as if you're possessed. It's not you.
62. Light accepts everything as it is.
63. When who you are not is making the choices then even if you get what you want you won't be happy because it is who you are not.
64. Sometimes it's necessary to run from a relationship so you can then run back.
65. You have compassion when you can see beyond your reaction.
66. You're responsible for you. No one in your life is going to take care of you. No one in your life is going to keep you healthy except you.
67. Remember, you may have anger, but you are not the anger.
68. We're all connected through energy
69. Humanity today thinks too much. When you think you loose contact with the body. As a result when you feel -- hungry, sleepy, angry -- you ignore it.
70. Ninety-five percent of your thinking is repeated and goes nowhere. You don't accomplish anything.
71. It's difficult to live with yourself when your mind is so busy. You're burning energy and this makes you vulnerable to getting sick.
72. The educational system is about how to think, but if you do it excessively it's destructive.
73. Thinking is necessary, but it's just horizontal. To connect with a higher power you have to also connect with spirit. This is vertical.
74. Reaction comes from your preprogrammed choice of what you learned to like and not like.
75. Yoga -- and especially yoga nidra meditation - takes you to a four dimension where the light of the guru within you resides.
76. Most people live in a dream. They don't see what's there.
77. Yoga lets you take a vacation from who you are not.
78. You're a magician. Your mind has the facility to turn heaven into hell or hell into heaven.
79. If your outer life is a priority and you don't honor inner life then you're out of balance.
80. When you connect with energy it becomes the link to consciousness.
81. Do not violate the temple that God lives in. If your body says it wants to sleep, but your mind says it wants entertainment then in the morning your body will be mad at you. Your mind will say you can have coffee, but this just covers up the will of your body. If you abuse the body you move further from God.
82. Mind-body conflict is part of all human suffering.
83. You can't go to a "cave condo" in the Himalayas to escape your thoughts. But you do have a fourth dimension in you -- your divine potential. This is where you can let go of all the bad habits.
84. If you don't mind your mind it's not a problem.
85. Cultivate practicing silence in the midst of noise.
86. When light comes darkness disappears.
87. Enlightenment is when you don't do anything to manage or control a situation.
88. If you change yourself the whole world changes with you.
89. You cannot solve the problem with the same consciousness that created it.
90. When Christ, Krishna or Buddha speak it's not the personality that speaks it's consciousness.
91. When you're comfortable with yourself you're comfortable with the world.
92. Your ego is screaming for food. It wants a problem. But ultimately you can't solve the problem by blaming others.
93. The only person offending you is you. It's the only person you can change.
94. You can get knowledge, but if it doesn't get into the spiritual heart of devotion it doesn't get into the body.
95. A guru gives you knowledge, but the problem and the source lives in you.
96. If your mind is not clear it won't open the heart.
97. A guru provides you with the map, but the territory is for you to travel.
98. Ultimately a guru teaches you that the guru lies within you.
99. Love your guru within.
As quickly as I arrived it was over. At the final session Gurudev's pencil thin frame sat bent slightly forward to reach his hands around an accordion which he played, leading us in a chant to honor the guru within ourselves.
Guru Om, Guru Om, Guru Om
Normally after chanting he got up and we bowed goodbye, but this final time he paused for a long while, took a breath, and said:
"People ask me all the time aren't you tired of saying all of this again and again because people never listen? I say no, they're on their way."
The next day I drove off after 10 days in the ashram, my guru's words locked inside of me: I was on my way.
I hope you are, too.
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