The clouds were hovering slowly over the vast mystical terrain of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The smell of rain was faint but you could sense that it wasn’t far away. I kept my eyes peering through the window, watching the landscape transform like a kaleidoscope. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I arrived at the ashram and saw the golden dome atop a traditional white Mexican-style structure.
Chris who I had been coordinating with told me to wait there since he was at a meeting. I dragged my suitcase towards the tables with umbrellas and was greeted by a Sikh wearing a turban sporting a long dark beard and a tall slender woman wearing a turban as well. She asked me if I needed help and I found out that she was Cat who I had been emailing back and forth the past couple of months for the kundalini yoga teacher training course. I killed time watching people around me. I set myself down and laid on the grass as the sun gently kissed my face. I just kept observing the people from the immersion teacher training as they took their break, some of them walking barefoot on the grass while others just sat and conversed with each other. There was one woman who started to break down to a guy.
Chris finally arrived and we took his car as we drove a few blocks around the ashram and went into a dirt road that led to a row of one floor houses. He showed me the house I was staying in and told me the code for the door. I entered and noticed that it was decent and spartan. I felt a pang of discomfort inside me – like I wanted to just run and leave. He brought me to the women’s quarters which was a far cry from our quarters since it was more furnished and cozy. He explained that all meals would be at the kitchen there. The sun was about to set so I walked around the compound. The sky was a medley of blue and orange and white. The lush green gardens gave a soothing smell. It was peaceful. I felt the wave of loneliness but I knew I had to be here.
I had trouble sleeping the night before. I had strangely felt the pull to sleep during the afternoon – it almost felt like I took a sedative. I could feel the stress and anxiety of the real world tugging at my core, thinking about what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I felt torn between following a spiritual path and living a life of an entrepreneur. I wrote a letter to Sarie just pouring out my thoughts and feelings. It felt good. It felt cathartic. I set my alarm to 3:00am to wake up for sadhana at 3:40am. I kept waking up. 1:00am. 2:00am. 3:00am. I was deliberating in my head if I wanted to just sleep in or just go to sadhana. It felt like a mental tug of war. After maybe twenty minutes of mind fucking, I finally decided to go at 3:40am.
I stepped out of the house and it was freezing. The cold air woke me up. I looked up at the sky and the stars were crystal clear. All the constellations were at clear sight. I entered the gudwara and picked an orange cloth to wrap around my head. I could see the room packed with people doing exercises. A part of me didn’t want to go in out of shame for being late. But I was already there so I just quietly walked in and sat in the middle. We did a yoga kriya for the liver and kidney which was so appropriate for the debauchery I did to my organs the week before. It was challenging but I could feel the energy invigorating me. We did a relaxing shavasana afterwards then did a mantra meditation. I could feel the sleep deprivation kicking in. I saw some people lay down on their backs so I just followed suit. It was amazing to just absorb all the vibrations and let my body rest. When the chanting ended, I made my way back to my room, set my alarm to 7:00am so I could have breakfast then just passed out.
I entered the women’s quarters for breakfast and Sarah and Mary were preparing their breakfasts. Sarah asked if I wanted cereal. I grabbed the almond milk from the fridge and pulled a banana off to mix it in with. I learned from Sarah that she was on a spiritual path. She didn’t care much for money. She said that she would paint without knowing what she was doing then when it was done, it would be a sign for her to move on to the next place. The last painting she made was of New Mexico that’s why it she had ended up in the ashram. She was planning to do the teacher training but didn’t have enough money. Her friends donated enough for her to get to Espanola. She called Chris when she was on the road and he told her about the Seva Sadhana program. At that exact moment, she pulled over and opened her laptop and signed up. She had been living here for three months already. She loves the life – the slowness and mindfulness of everyone and especially how the community is strong and how she’s able to expand and learn. I love how trusting she is. She’s always been on a soul and creative path most of life. I love how she doesn’t compromise.
I met my housemate, Roy. He’s from Osaka, Japan. He used to work as a computer salesman but he said it was really stressful. Now he works as a coordinator at the Kundalini Yoga Institute in Nara. I remember when I met him for the first time, I noticed we had the same beige Uniqlo hoodie. Even his face gave a striking resemblance of how I would look a few years from now. He was married for seven years but he told me his wife wanted to live a regular life but he wanted to live a spiritual life. He had been living here for three months so he could immerse and improve his English. He was planning to go to Peru and Chile after his stay her to accompany one of the Kundalini Yoga teachers going on a meditation tour. He’s definitely on a soul journey. He practices Reiki and did the vipassana meditation retreat in Japan a few years ago.
He offered to drive me to the supermarket after we helped out at Yogi Bhajan’s estate. We basically just fixed the table settings, placed flowers, unpacked the buffet items, really easy work. Peacocks were aimlessly wandering around the garden. It was a beautiful place. For some reason, while driving to Wal-mart, seeing all the fast food chains made me crave for junk. When I entered Wal-mart, I could feel my blood pumping, I wanted sugar and salt. I wanted all the bad stuff. I remembered one of my good friends telling me that when this happens, you need to just perceive it as a wave and let it fall on you – experience it completely then watch the desire fade away.
When I got back to the house, I devoured the leftover dahl and I heated up some toast and ate them together with butter. An elderly man named James who had been living at the ashram for almost a decade said he was going to grab some leftovers from the kitchen. I washed the dishes after I ate. He arrived with vegetarian pizza and mushroom and greens soup with rice noodles. The pizza was amazing but the soup was a bit bland. I put a dash of pepper on top of the soup and sprinkled child flakes on top of my pizza. He shared his life with us, he had always lived in ashrams. He lived in an ashram in Brooklyn before he moved to Espanola. He loved the sense of community and spiritual life it gave him. Sarah seemed to be liking life here and wanted to live her as long as she could. After I did the dishes for everyone, I went back to my room and took a long nap. I set my alarm for 5pm since we were headed to the last day of meditation leading up to Yogi Bhajan’s birthday. My head was throbbing and spinning as I laid down. When my alarm went off, I woke up feeling much better.
We drove to the house where the meditation was being held. It was filled with carpets and paintings of Yogi Bhajan and the golden temple. Statues of buddhas and crystals filled the shelves. The kitchen smelled of spices and fragrant rice. We recited a Sikh prayer for a couple of minutes then sang Guru Ram Dass as a band played in the background in unison. I could feel the vibrations uplift the entire room. When we finished, we were served plates of hearty vegetarian food – steamed vegetables, salsa, fried tofu and steamed white rice. I met the other woman who had just arrived to join the Seva Sadhana program. Her name was Anna and she came from Alaska. She has 2 and 3 year old kids but is going through a rough divorce. She said that she was happy that they were in good terms with her husband. She was planning to stay here for 3 months and wanted to do teacher training as well. I also met a young Indian woman who caught my eye from across the room. She was from Brooklyn and was an attorney. She was also on a spiritual path. She wanted to use her intuition more in her life so she was studying ayurveda. She told me that the key is to find the connection between your current career and your newfound passion. She said that was what happened with her. We don’t need to just give up one. We can be different layers. I am so grateful for today though. Met so many interesting people. Got to practice meditation and yoga. Ate delicious and healthy food. God is in the details.
Words and Photos by Nicky Daez
*All names have been changed for privacy purposes.
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.
Words and Photographs by Nick Daez and Ken Haruki
Words and Photographs by Nicky Daez
Words and Photography by Nicky Daez
Photography by Nicky Daez