Day 92 to Day 99 – First week of the Self Transformation Program at Sadhana Mandir

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Day 92 – it’s a long way to the top if you wanna know your soul

The program has begun and it is pretty intense. Today is only Sunday so it is a Holy Day and it means we have extra free time during the day instead of our usual theory and practice. We are expected to be up at 5am for personal practice of asana, meditation or pranayama. At 6am hot chai or lemon and honey is served. Thinking that the hot water and lemon will help detox me, I opt for this. At 6.30am we meet in the meditation hall, which has a small altar to Swami Rama, the original Guru who established the Sadhana Mandir Trust. In the picture he is young, his eyes closed in meditation. All around the picture are mala beads, floral leys and candles. A pot of ghee in a glass cabinet burns constantly and a lamp shines on his face. This room and the dining room are always open, just in case you need to meditate in the middle of the night. In the mornings, our guide, who I will name Rafiki because of the way he reminds us of the Shaman baboon from the Lion King (not aesthetically but rather because he tends to wack us over the head when we talk about the past), asks what time we woke up, whether we used an alarm, how much water we have drunk and “poo or no poo?” For those that have, he asks what type, whether it floated or sunk. Apparently there are good and there are bad shits. He has acronyms for everything. He calls the Self Transformation Program, STP, the Sewerage Treatment Plant and says that our minds are full of CRAP- Constantly Retarding Awareness Perpetually.

Until 8am, we are shown the first sequence of Hatha Yoga from the Himalayan Swami Rama tradition and to be honest, I don’t get it. It seems so… anal! He keeps coming over and twisting my shoulders in. For someone who has been practicing asana with my shoulders always rolling out to open the heart and expand the chest, this is like re-learning how to walk. We stand with most of the weight in the front of our feet and by 7.30am I am stoked when he tells us to lie down for systematic relaxation, the preparation for Yoga Nidra. In Swami Rama’s book, The Path of Fire and Light, vol. II (which is the prescribed reading and one of only four books permitted), it says that sleep will not benefit us, however a practice of Yoga Nidra will. It will help us to find a deep state of relaxation, further reducing our need to sleep. Apparently the sleep cycle means that in an eight hour sleep, we only get 3 hours of truly deep rest so we don’t need as much sleep as we think. Now, I am a little wary of this. I like 9-10 hours of sleep so anyone telling me I only need 4-6 can just sh…. Anyway, now I see why the meditation room is open for 24 hours a day!

We have the daytime off… After breakfast I read Meditation and Its Practices, which is a great book on meditation, and Living with the Himalayan Masters, both by Swami Rama. I try to meditate at 12.30pm and I start to feel really good when I realise that I am falling asleep. I get a little annoyed with myself and go down to lunch at 1pm. By 2.30pm we watch a video of Swami Rama and I just can’t focus. I am relieved to see that other people are falling asleep as well.

By evening Satsang at 7.45pm I am getting annoyed. Actually, I am downright cranky. I feel tired and irritable. I am not PMSing either. I can hear my internal dialogue- it is my ego, fighting for its life. Ganesa, the god, is the remover of obstacles and I can feel him stomping around in my head. Rafiki is trying to kill my ego. Not my big-headed arrogance, but the side of the mind that keeps me from connecting to my true self. I can hear it arguing with myself. Lucky Rafiki himself calls the practices “very advanced bullshit”, because my ego is saying pretty much the same thing. I can also here the self saying that it has to be a struggle if it is going to really change me. It has to be painful if it is going to kill away the old habits (samskaras) and break open the path to Samadhi. If it was easy, then everyone would be enlightened beings! But we aren’t. We are mostly zombies. I may be on a spiritual path, but the past 91 days have been relatively easy compared to this. Now I have to put in the hard yards and it may be a struggle, but if I don’t give it my all, then I am only cheating mySELF.

Day 93 – dealing with the blockages

It was only from the movement of my wrist that Rafiki is able to spot that my ayurvedic constitution is Vata Dosha. He tells me the hot water and lemon is only making my vata imbalance worse and it is my current Dosha, Pitta, that is causing me to crave the sour taste. I had no idea I could be Pitta Dosha, which is ruled by fire. I am so airy and flighty and windy (in every way), I just always saw myself as Vata. Now that he has said this, however I can really see the fire. Spicy food, love of hot climates, the way I can get passionate or angry in the blink of an eye… Yeah there is a bit of fire in this body. There is also a bit of a lack of fire and fibre going on. I’m not sure when the Delhi Belly is supposed to be kicking in, but I am currently experiencing more than just an emotional/mental blockage.

Once again in our morning lecture, “Elizabeth” just keeps thinking, “Why the hell is this Indian man still yelling at us?” During practice, during relaxation, again during meditation… It is all just grinding at my bones and I want to share, but instead I hold back. After breakfast, we are back to the full program so we meet again at 10am for theory and meditation before lunch. After lunch, we are shown a digestive practice which doesn’t work for me and in a bit of a huff, I go to leave the meditation hall. As I open the door I stop and look at Swami Rama.

“Gurudev, help me. I’m struggling. I don’t get it. I mean, I’m not feeling anything. I feel this blockage I have never felt before and I know you probably want me to try harder but I just need some… help. I need a sign to tell me if I’m really supposed to be here or not. I usually believe that where I am is exactly where I am supposed to be but it’s like this just doesn’t make any sense yet. Just… please… help?” I stare at the picture, but his eyes stay closed. No magical voice from the beyond, no sudden vision… nothing. Just me.

After this we have some free time before chai is served at 4pm and then we go for a second walk before we meet again at 5pm for evening practice and meditation. Dinner is at 7pm, and finally the evening Satsang where we gather to ask questions, share and read from the book, Path of Fire and Light, Vol II. In Satsang, John, one of the other participants shares that he is experiencing resistance and I am so grateful that I can finally say so as well. It feels like a load is lifted from my shoulders and as I am preparing for an evening meditation before bed, my friend Amy comes upstairs to my room to ask if I am ok. She reminds me so much of mum. She offers a hug and this expression of ahimsa, selfless love, just radiates through me. I sit down to meditate and look at the small picture of Swami Rama in my room. Thank you.

Day 94 – releasing, letting go, surrendering, and liberation- moksha

It is dawn and the sun is yet to rise over the misty mountains across the river. The sky is filled with bird song and flocks move across the sky in the pink light. I have a small bundle tucked under my sarong that is wrapped over my head and around my shoulders. It is still a little cool in the mornings here in Rishikesh. I walk through the beautiful flowers of the garden and as I come to the gate of the ashram, I hear the beat of wings, like a bird taking off. When I look around, there is no bird. I look up and lean back but I see nothing in the sky above me. I step down to the river’s edge and sit beside a woman in a red sari who is meditating. Two men behind me are doing vigorous chatturangas on the steps. I sit down remove my bundle, holding onto the wad of hair that once fell across my face. It is still soft and smells a little sweet, like coconut. I give it a couple of strokes. I say a short prayer, “with this I let go of my ego, of my old samskaras, of the conditioning that is holding me back from realising my true self. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.” I throw the hair into the river and watch it scatter on the surface of the water. I close my eyes for a moment and breathe slowly, bringing my awareness to the bridge between my two nostrils. I feel the cool air moving in and the warm air moving out. The current is surprisingly strong and within a few minutes my hair has passed a few metres down the river. I continue to sit and stare at the beautiful morning: the birds flying all around me, the sound of chanting in the distance and the perpetual flow of this holy river of life.

When I enter the meditation hall, I can hear no argument, no negativity from within my mind. Instead, my heart is filled with ahimsa, selfless love. For some reason, Rafiki is not yelling today and as I begin the Hatha Yoga practice, I feel all the subtle energies moving through my body. I get one of those “aha!” moments when I realise that this is real yoga- getting to the subtle body. A million sun salutes may never get me to the subtle awareness of Atman, but this practice is creating Mindful Conscious Awareness and with THAT, I can feel something shifting deep inside of me. I don’t know if the ego has completely gone, but I have definitely released something of the blockage that has been holding me back.

As to the other blockage… well Rafiki has given me some Ayurvedic herbs, which I hope will work and instructed me to do strong Bhastrika as I walk back from my morning run. At least my mind is starting to empty out the CRAP.

Day 95 – there is only practice

Elizabeth, in a moment of being unconsciously unconscious, can not find her glasses. It is 5am. She has already practiced kapalabhati and the ‘Joints and Glands’ Hatha Yoga sequence and is now going out to do meditation (preparation) and then run along the Ganga. She stops in the meditation hall to look for her glasses but seeing the tranquil darkness, she steps in to do her practice there. In the early morning stillness, two devotees are already seated. They have obviously been there for hours. Elizabeth gets a blanket and sandbag and sits in easy pose. The hall is still and although it is dark, it is luminous, full of the vibrational radiance of the Saucha of the other meditators. Sitting down, Elizabeth focuses her attention on the breath; the dance of consciousness at the bridge between the two nostrils and the loop of breath that exhales down to the tail bone and up to the crown of the head. She can hear the gentle whisper of ujjayi breath resonating from the cave of her heart as her abdomen expands and contracts. After 20 minutes, a tightness in the body’s thoracic spine becomes pain and Elizabeth stands up to leave. She believes herself to have failed; however she hears a voice from within, “there is no success and there is no failure. There is only practice.”

Day 96 – Swami Rama’s systematic approach to meditation

This system is very intense. You can tell doctors who were using the left side of the brain developed it. ‘Elizabeth’ is a more right brain kind of girl, so it is taking some time to understand this methodological approach. Being more of a ‘go-with-the-flow’ kind of person means that I want there to be mystical, esoteric meanings behind everything but the fact of the matter is that this practice has been developed as a systematic approach to meditation. It has steps and every action in Hatha has to do with pranayama (the movement and expansion of prana around the body; not breathing exercises as I have previously believed) and the meditation techniques. Up until now I have been meditating for three months on any meditation technique I can get my hand on. While it has all been a beautiful learning process, in this ashram, I am learning the preparations required to place me into meditative stillness wherein which, apparently Samadhi can be reached. Rafiki even thinks we can reach Samadhi by the end of the three weeks. The first rule in Swami Rama’s teachings is to meditate at the same time every single day. This creates new grooves in the mind and gets rid of old habits. Along with breath regulation, kapalabhati, lion’s breath, drinking 1.5L water, asana practice and a run before the sun gets too hot, this body has to be up and about at 4am in order to get this all done before morning chai is served at 6am. And apparently we haven’t even started meditating yet! Rafiki has only been giving us systematic relaxation and “preparation” for meditation. Well, it feels like meditation to me. And even if the technique is based on the same principles, the experience of each day is new and different.

Although I sleep only six hours (I usually prefer 9), the 4 daily meditations, 2 daily walking meditations and 2 daily yoga nidras have all contributed to more energy, better cardio fitness as I can run faster and further, I find it easier to wake up earlier, sleep deeper and can fall asleep in only 5 breaths, feel less drowsy during the day, feel more conscious and I am aware of my breath more consistently.

Day 97 – day of Hanuman, the monkey god

Today is the day of Hanuman. It is also Passover and Good Friday, which automatically leads me to recall that there are no bottle shop sales in New South Wales. I swipe that association from my mind- that can definitely go into the Ganges!

Some of the girls in our small group, which we call a family, decide to tell us the story of Hanuman. Apparently it all starts with Prince Rama. He is banished to the forest by his king who is indebted to his second wife, Kikai. Kikai wants nothing more than her son to be the King. Being ‘apta’, meaning a genuine person who walks their talk, the King must grant this to his wife as he has promised. The younger step-brother is actually a pretty cool guy so he places Rama’s sandals on the throne and says he will save the crown for when Rama gets back.  So Rama, his wife Sita and his brother-in-law Laksmula go to the forest in exile for seven years. There, the demon shape-shifter, Shupanaka, comes to seduce Rama but he recognises that she is a demon and cuts off her nose! Her brother, the demon king, Ravana, decides to take revege and so sends another shape-shifter, Mareecha, in as a ruse. Mareecha appears as a beautiful golden deer and Sita wants it so she orders Rama out to capture it for her. He suspects something so he is reluctant but ultimately leaves their little forest hut to get it. Laksmula stays to protect Sita but  Mareecha is able to throw his voice and mimics Rama crying out for help. Laksmula must now run out to save Rama, but before he leaves, he draws a line around the hut and tells Sita that as long as she is behind this line, she will be protected. Now that Sita is alone and vulnerable, Ravana sees his opportunity so he appears as a Sadhu, or holy man, begging for alms. Initially he tries to cross the line but finds that it creates a protective force field so he must lure Sita out. Since it is a sin to deny a Sadhu, Sita is in a bit of confusion about what to do, but eventually decides to step out of the circle. Ravana then kidnaps her and they fly away in his magical chariot to Sri-Lanka. She cries for help and drops a bag of jewellery as they fly away.

Rama calls his army, the head of which is the monkey god, Hanuman. Hanuman is extremely devoted to Rama and with the power of his master in his heart he is able to do anything, so he leaps across to Sri Lanka in a single bound. Once there, he realises that he will not be able to find Sita since he does not know what she looks like as you were not supposed to look royalty in the eye. He searches in vain until finally he hears somebody chanting “Hare Ram, Hare Ram…” Realising it could be nobody else, he has one of Rama’s rings which he drops on Sita’s lap. She looks up and realises that Hanuman must be the head of the army.

Returning to India, Hanuman must devise a plan to rescue Sita so they map out the tower where she is held hostage and prepare for war. To cross the sea to Sri Lanka, they decide to build a bridge. This bridge is made with the help of two brothers who were cursed by a Sadhu in their youth. Their curse was that if they throw a stone in the water, the stone could not sink but would float instead. So they made the floating bridge to Sri Lanka and the war began…

Apparently one of those stones is still here in Rishikesh.

Day 98 – if you ask a question, the answer will be given

I am sitting outside in the shade, looking out at the flowing Ganges, wondering how can I possibly balance my city life with my search for enlightenment. How can I go back to that life and still be able to meditate four times a day? I am seriously considering whether I should just give up everything and head for a cave in the Himalayas when I flip open Living with the Himalayan Masters, by Swami Rama, and read,

‘I once asked my master, “Is it possible for a man in the world to get freedom from all conditionings of the mind, or does he have to live in the Himalayas his whole life to develop powers such as yours?”

He said, “If a human being remains constantly aware of the purpose of his life and directs all his actions toward the fulfilment of that purpose, there remains nothing impossible for him.”

Day 99- in search of a floating stone

Waking up early, I decide to take it slow and since today is Sunday, I do not put my runners on. Instead of running, I plan to just meditate for about fifteen minutes extra and still have enough time to sip morning honey water instead of gulping it down as I usually do. My meditation is thwarted in half an hour by a mosquito and so I take it outside for a cool walk in the pre-dawn. I realise that it is my vattic tendency to rush around because I feel like I am going to miss out on something. Looping the breath, I become conscious of so much more than just breathing. Strangely enough, I have done everything slower than usual and I seem to have more time.

It is the middle of the day and it is hot. Usually we would be in class studying the theory of Mindful Conscious Awareness and trying to focus on the bridge between the nostrils and the loop of exhale to the toes and inhale back up to the head all at the same time, but today is Sunday and it is a holi-day. Pria, my friend and sister in our small family circle, has invited me for a walk. We escape the ashram to go in search of a floating stone. What we discover is the endless looping of false directions from locals and eventually find a Shiva Mandir (temple) where we hoped we would find ruins. We climb the steps to look out from what we thought would be some historical ruins only to find a rooftop of cow patties.

Sometimes India is just a series of endless loops.

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