At about two weeks into my trip, I came very close to buying a plane ticket to return home to Texas.
I didn’t have very many expectations for my stay at Ashok Tree. At the end of September, I decided I wanted to visit Tiruvannamalai again. I didn’t really know why, but I was being called back there. I started looking into this sweet town again and gathering information about possibly returning, maybe having a retreat there sometime. As soon as I started googling, I found Yogi Ashokananda’s ashram called Ashok Tree. He would be having a few retreats in December and a teacher training in January. I saw his picture and I was drawn in. I researched him, read his book, and watched his videos. After about a month, I couldn’t stop thinking about it so I just booked a ticket. The universe conspired to help me get here.
On the day I arrived at Ashok Tree, I cried. I felt it was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen. I felt I never wanted to leave, but that would change quickly. For the first few days at Ashok Tree, I couldn’t believe how the universe had landed me in such an amazing place. I was walking around in a daze and I could see myself staying there forever. Gorgeous farm land, delicious healthy Indian food, Ayurvedic massages, yoga every day either in the yoga shala or on the rooftop, cows and dogs roaming freely, children’s laughter from the school—what a dream! My room was elegant for an ashram, with a western toilet and a fan. A cool breeze blowing through the doors every day, even when it was so hot outside. And the view of Arunachala!
Arunachala is a sacred mountain in Tiruvannamalai. It is believed to be an earthly incarnation of Lord Shiva, the primary God in Hinduism. The first time I visited this town, I felt the intense presence of God on that mountain before I knew anything of the story about the mountain. I know, now, the mountain had called me back to it, as it does with so many people.
A few other yoginis, mostly from England, were already there, as well as Yogi’s partner and two adorable children. We all quickly bonded as we shared meals together, visited the 1000 year-old temple, practiced together, and just about a week after I arrived, the baby calf, Rainbow, was born. We watched the calf stand for the first time, how beautiful! Yogi held drumming circles by a fire in the evening. We were in an Indian dream. One of the yoginis was a kirtan leader, so we were lucky enough to have an audience with her as she sang on a few occasions, leading us in a chanting meditation.
Once the retreat started, I started questioning whether I wanted to be in this place for so long. The detox retreat was fairly intense. Detoxing wasn’t just about going on a restricted diet and practicing yoga every day. In addition to that, we were strongly encouraged to do some intense practices that for most Westerners seem counterintuitive. Specifically, we were drinking salt water and neem water, then practicing a series of postures which would help “open the channel.” Once that happened, it was best we not be far from the toilet. Yogi mentioned more than once that detoxing was about removing things, not putting new things in. You get the picture. It was not pleasant. Our diet was reduced to that of a watered down kitchari (rice and lentils) with shots of castor oil for a few days. Despite the lack of energy, we continued our twice daily yoga practice, albeit a very gentle practice. The process left me very weak, tired and emotional. Though Yogi asked us not to sleep during the day, I couldn’t stay awake and my dreams were very intense.
I knew I’d be homesick at some point, so it wasn’t much of a surprise to be wanting to forget the whole thing and go home. That’s just the nature of wanting to be somewhere that you are not. Dvesha, as it is called in Sanskrit, which translates to aversion. This is one of the Kleshas, which are afflictions of the mind and are the root of suffering. Aversion is one I particularly struggle with. I think of it as constantly wanting and seeking something else, another sensation, another feeling, another place. In a sense, it is a feeling of wanting bigger, better, different and it is derived from ego, which is always seeking something new. Aversion can show up in yoga postures, when you cannot just hold it, but rather, make a small adjustment because it is uncomfortable. Seane Corn, one of my favorite yoga teachers, calls this being a sensation junkie. We are so accustomed to changing our circumstances when we experience discomfort.
As I was experiencing the effects of the detox, I knew that aversion was a key issue for me to confront. Especially since even when I am not detoxing, I am usually wishing I felt something other than what I am feeling. So at some moments in the three days of constant shitting, sleeping, and yoga, I definitely knew that it was temporary and I would get through it. Even though my mind was telling me how awful it was, I knew, or at least I hoped, I would begin to have a renewed energy and vitality (as was being promised). Yet, it just wasn’t happening for me. Then we were asked to drink more salt water, and this time, immediately vomit it back up. This was supposed to stimulate your second chakra and help reduce the fire in the digestive system. I drew the line. I could not participate. I just couldn’t imagine to continue to put my body through this intentional upheaval. I was too weak. I felt awful. And my aversion to this practice was real. So, that day, I stopped participating.
On that afternon, I had a lucid dream. They usually begin with me flying. This time, I was flying with another one of the guests from the ashram. Her name was Melissa (and she ended up being my savior.) She and I and a few others were traveling around and I found myself at a beautiful beach, with clear water, and distinctively colored boats. I thought I was in the Caribbean. I woke up and had this feeling that I should leave the ashram.
My mind was resisting this thought because, again, I knew I was depleted energetically and I didn’t want to give up so soon. I was telling myself to push through it, despite feeling so rough, and it was starting to feel like I was pushing myself for all the wrong reasons. I told myself, I know I can’t just run from unpleasant experiences all the time, so maybe I needed to push myself. Sometimes it makes sense to stay in the discomfort and see if you can experience it as something else. But this wasn’t that. This was starting to border on torturing myself for reasons that were completely against my natural flow. It was stressful and painful and I was re-injuring myself. The resistance I was feeling was not healthy for me. Some other interactions were happening that I didn’t really like, but aren’t worth talking about now. Suffice it all to say, my mind was trying to convince me to stay, after all, it was mostly paid for, I was due to start teacher training just after the new year and if I left, where in the hell would I go? Did I even have enough money to go anywhere? I hadn’t planned to leave the ashram at all! It seemed a little crazy to even contemplate leaving. I realized leaving would mean I’d have to refigure everything, which was completely out of my comfort zone.
I vacillated for a day. I started reading the India guidebook. I checked my bank account. I called a friend. I checked in with my higher self. I talked to the ashram manager. I meditated. In my meditation, I heard a voice say, “Goa.” The next day I decided to leave.
I think you know how this has turned out for me. There is more to the story but let’s leave it here for now.