Ashram Life Day 3: Motions

There’s something about being in an ashram that makes you pay attention to the details. I’ve been catching myself – how I constantly look at my phone, how I keep going through social media, how my hunger pangs erupt violently, my cravings for meat and the desire to escape through constant stimulation. All these stimulants have been deeply ingrained in me. It’s so important to just observe them though. I’ve been practicing celibacy for four days. I haven’t eaten meat in a day. These are all cycles. On the other hand, there’s beauty in the discipline here. Taking cold showers at night. Waking up at 3:00am to go to sadhana. Trying to keep up with intense yogic movements. Fighting the urge to sleep during mantra singing. It’s grueling. It isn’t that type of exercise wherein you’re basking in enlightenment. It’s quite the opposite. You’re instead sharpening yourself. You’re seeing how much space and capacity you have inside. Call it grit or tenacity. But a lot of self control and will are involved.

Today is technically the first day of Seva Sadhana. We had our first meeting at 8:30am. All the rules and schedules were explained. Each day is different but it’s a balance of serving, learning and devotion. Before we started the meeting, we tuned in and did an 11 minute meditation on finding strength and our inner teacher. Afterwards, each one shared their reflections of our idea of fearlessness. I think this was so apt for me since I had just decided to stay on in the US and explore the great unknown. This morning, our task was to sort out the donations from Summer Solstice. We had to segregate the blankets and yoga mats we wanted to keep for the program and the rest would be given to charity. We washed down the yoga mats with a hose and scrubbed them before hanging them on the porch to try. It was so much fun actually. It felt like we were in summer camp and we were all just playing. I think a big part of it was the team work – we created a system wherein one person would be in charge of the hose and the other two would scrub and hang the mats to dry.

Afterwards, I helped out Mico screw in covers on the sockets and light switches. It felt good working with my hands. Before 11am, we all jumped into two cars and made our way to the school right next to the ashram. Our next task was to help unload these huge trucks filled with food and move them to the storage areas. There were boxes of cereal and orange juice. Again it was a team effort. We created a human chain passing on the boxes while the last person would stack the boxes neatly inside. A piece of dirt entered my eye and I had to take off one contact lens and when I tried putting it back on, it fell on the floor. Thank God I didn’t get dizzy with just one contact lens.

I talked to Adam who was a firefighter back in Arizona. He shared how it wasn’t exactly what he thought it would be. He was expecting to be fighting fires with the team but mostly, he gets called to do paramedic work. He’s been practicing kundalini yoga and been a vegan for a couple of years now. He decided to stay here for two weeks to enrich his spiritual life. Been talking a lot to Rebecca as well. We seem to share the same obsession for coffee and food (meat specifically). I admire her strength for coming here in spite of having two young kids and going through a divorce. She seems like a person who has achieved a lot of success professionally but has struggled internally because of family and being misunderstood.

There was a white bearded man in a green turban who was just a bundle of energy. He kept cracking corny and funny jokes. He was originally from Michigan but had kept going back to Espanola for thirty years until he decided to just move. He drives a school bus but is deeply involved in ashram living. The lady in charge of the feeding program for the less fortunate kids was from the Netherlands. Yogi Bhajan had asked her to live in Espanola decades ago and she thought he meant Spain that’s why she moved. She was a sweet old woman. She treated everyone part of the Seva Sadhana program to a Mexican lunch. She asked all of us where we were from and what we did and why we were here. She had an authenticity to her. She talked passionately about the youth in Espanola and that they were the highest percentage of the poorest in the country. She stressed how the youth were the future of the planet and how they needed to be fed properly. She knew of many adults living in the area who were so angry because they were hungry as children. I was so in awe with her generosity. I could sense a tinge of sadness in her voice when she talked about her husband who had left her years ago. Now, she dedicates her life to helping feed kids. It’s so inspiring.

Our last workshop today was on tantric numerology. It was so fascinating how numbers run deeper than what they seem. I learned I need to master my body. Physical exercise is imperative to balance out my entire self. I am prone to negativity so the challenge is to over ride it through pranayama and exercise. Rituals are important. Also learned that this is a year wherein I need to be open to social experiences and enjoy them. Next year will be focused on hard work.

Words by Nicky Daez
All names have been changed for privacy purposes

Ashram Life Day 2: Learnings

Woke up at 3am today for sadhana at 3:30am. It was pretty gruelling. I was able to keep up with the chanting for the first hour but afterwards, I could just listen and keep my legs up. The strain on my back was really pronounced and it became sort of a mindfuck to watch the other people lay down on their mats and doze off. I still managed to stay a few minutes before the end before I decided to head back to my room and get some shut eye. Before taking a nap, I decided to eat the instant ramen I had bought from Wal-Mart the previous day. I kept craving for a bowl of hot soup during sadhana since it was so cold. It was semi satisfying to eat it but I regretted it when I woke up from my nap. I felt like shit and my stomach was churning from all the sodium and processed ingredients. I did my business and headed to the women’s quarters to have my second breakfast.

 

I made myself a bowl of cereal oats with almond milk and bananas. Mara, a woman in her seventies who’s also part of Seva Sadhana program entered the kitchen to prepare her breakfast. She told me about her life a bit. She had been living in LA for a while then started following a group of people living at an ashram. She lived in Guatemala for a while, staying with locals in a native hut. She was big on signs, explaining how she would hear voices or have visions of her moving to certain places.

 

After breakfast, I made my way to the prosperity workshop near the ashram. It was just incredible -all the learnings and insight I was absorbing from the different legacy teachers. The conversations over lunch were so inspiring as well. I met a guy who literally had nothing – didn’t have a job or a cent to his name but a kind soul who was a Kundalini Yoga teacher gave him money and a place to stay so he could get back on his feet. Now he’s teaching yoga, has his own place and is building a life in Espanola, New Mexico.

 

It was my first time to help out with lunch. I was assigned to put dressing on all the salads on each plate and collect the used plates after everyone finished eating. It was humbling yet gratifying. Afterwards, I went back to the women’s quarters to heat up some left over pizza since I was famished from the workshop. Rebecca from Alaska arrived a few minutes after and asked if I wanted to make a coffee run to the nearest gas station. We talked about her spending all of the hundred thousand dollars she inherited from her Mother who had passed away last year. Her sister passed away 2 years before. She shared how her husband filed for divorce when she started taking antidepressants. Her main issue was not being able to talk and share her thoughts and feelings openly with people. Plus the 20 hours of no sunlight didn’t help. She seemed to have gone through dark times and joining Seva Sadhana was her saving grace. She gave me a crystal from Africa and I gave her a purple one which I got from Maha Rose in New York City. It’s so interesting how the people I’ve been meeting here (myself included) all have had issues with money – either too much of it or too little or not having any at all.

 

At 5pm, we all walked over to Yogi Bhajan’s estate for his birthday celebration. We did a session that benefited the parasympathetic system then we joined the festivities. There were kids getting their faces painted and playing with hula hoops. People lined up for the vegetarian buffet. There was a long table with free CDs, scrubs, tea and other organic products. There was free popcorn. The vibe was magical. I talked to so many kindred spirits. Anna was from Canada doing the teacher training immersion and she works a seasonal job supervising tree planting. She was raving about how amazing the immersion was. Got to talk to Sonya who’s from Brooklyn. We talked about our love for weed and the Ayurvedic place she’s setting up with her sister in Costa Rica. It was just so invigorating talking to her. Met Jack who’s been living in Espanola and his son just finished school at NYU for film. Talked to Sharon, a woman in her sixties still charming as ever who moved to Espanola six years ago from Pennsylvania. It was an amazing night.

Words by Nick Daez
All names have been changed for privacy

Ashram Chronicles: Seva Sadhana in Espanola, New Mexico

Endings are never easy. But neither our beginnings. I got myself out of bed at three in the morning today and that pressing feeling weighed on me. I am leaving the ashram today. For the past two wonderful weeks, this place has been home to me – a place of refuge. Each day has been a gift – an intertwinement of self reflection, expansion and deep interactions.

In essence, my entire experience here can be summed up by the name of the program – seva sadhana. Seva means selfless service. While sadhana is a personal spiritual practice. I am not a morning person but I found myself waking up at 3am most mornings to go to the Gudwara for sadhana. What exactly happens in the gudwara? It starts off with morning chanting then a kundalini yoga class followed by singing and the Gudwara ritual. This all happens between 3:40 and 7:00am. I’ll admit it felt like an absolute challenge the first few days but eventually, it became the opposite – it felt energizing and cleansing. It was like I couldn’t get enough of it. The shifts were subtle but I would notice even if I had a few hours of sleep, I would be able to go through the day with so much clarity and passion.

And this is where the seva parts come in. We usually meet at 8:30am and sit in a circle. All our meetings begin with an eleven minute meditation to raise and align our vibrations. Ram Krishan, who leads the program reads an inspirational or thought provoking excerpt from a book. Afterwards, he asks all of us to reflect on a question like what is our vision for the world or what does creativity mean to us. Every one of us gets a chance to answer. He talks about the activities we have for the day then we’re off to start our seva.

Our seva changes from day to day. It ranges from working in the garden, putting compost on the soil, picking cucumbers to helping in the kitchen, chopping vegetables and mixing huge pots of soup and rice. Every Wednesdays it’s karma yoga which means we all have to clean our respective houses since all the men stay together and all the women stay in another house. This means doing a deep clean of every nook and cranny of the living quarters.

Every Sunday, we clean the Gudwara. We take out all the carpets and all the other decorations then we sweep the floor and pour buckets of water all over. We get on our knees and wipe the marble floor with our bare hands. We get towels and run them on the floor to absorb the water then squeeze out all the water back to the buckets.

You would think it’s simple menial work but this is where I believe the magic happens. Every stroke and movement is a meditation – a metaphor of your inner world. As I wiped away on my knees, the noise in my head came to a halt. I was cleaning my soul – melting my karma and washing away the labyrinth of stress and anxiety.

The thing about the modern world is that we’re programmed to think that we need to simply work on ourselves. It’s always geared towards the self. The irony is that the real healing and growth begins when you start looking outside yourself. I was in awe with the sensations I would feel when I would prepare food for the community and serve them during langar lunches. It was so humbling yet so empowering at the same time.

The kundalini yoga classes and workshops are just a feast for the mind, body and soul. Being in the presence of teachers who have been serving for decades was incredible. You could just feel the wisdom in the tone of their voice. The brevity of their words were piercing. Prosperity was a recurring topic during my stay at the ashram. They explain how prosperity comes when we stop chasing what we think we need and deserve. In fact, we attract prosperity when begin to serve others selflessly and allow ourselves to be open to the gifts of the universe. It was such an awakening to experience it firsthand. We all have that innate power and gift. All we need to do is tap into it.

 I’ll never forget the long dirt road I would walk at 3am to get to the Gudwara. The chilly breeze would meld with the cries of wolves and chirping crickets. The crackle of twigs, stones and sand would echo as my feet pressed into the ground. A faint white ocean of moonlight spilled over the horizon. As I walked silently under the glistening constellations, I felt a deep feeling of infinite love and peace. It was one of those rare moments of utter perfection and I only have humble gratitude for experiencing it.

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Words and Photographs by Nick Daez and Ken Haruki