During a series of devastating losses, when it seemed as though a river of sorrow was sweeping through my life and I was hanging onto the bank, I decided to let go. Tired and fed up, I gave away my apartment, put my things in storage, left my cat with a friend, and went to India. Many months later, at a profoundly peaceful yoga ashram in the northern part of the country, I took my first important steps in learning to overcome loss and depression.
A veritable garden of Eden, the yoga ashram was at the centre of a meadow of fragrant tulsi (sacred basil) and was a short walk from the rushing, opaque-green waters of the sacred and mighty Ganges River. Cows lowed in the fields and garden-lined paths led to the cool, white marble temple. The temple was a circular building with two sets of impressive wood doors directly across from each other. Inside, a very large glowing green crystal globe sat atop a white conical pedestal at the centre of the room. On the wall were huge black-and-white photos of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, their deeply kind faces seemingly alive with compassion, love and acceptance.
Someone had decorated the marble cone and the floor under the portraits with rocks, twigs, flowers and other natural objects. These were very artfully arranged and changed every day or two. Thick orange cushions were scattered around the room. Everyone who entered the temple found their place silently. I liked to position myself against a pillar facing out the far doors, which were kept open due to the summer heat. From there I could see the peaceful fields and the misty mountains of Rajaji National Park. In the evening I could watch the sun set.
Although meditation was scheduled for mornings and evenings, people seemed to drift in and out at their own pace, to the tune of their own inner truth. Swamiji was often “late,” although I soon realized that “late” was not a potent concept at the ashram. People here—and the individual spiritual journeys they were on—were treated with respect. Regimes and expectations were not imposed, aside from a few ground rules common to most ashrams (no meat, alcohol, drugs, sex).
It was in this atmosphere of peace, natural beauty and acceptance that I sat down to meditate. I had never felt such joy. And certainly not while meditating, which had always been a struggle. There was something about the energy of this land and this river that seemed to sing to me. I felt it almost immediately, when I first arrived at the ashram and lay down for a nap. Feeling embraced by a loving and maternal presence I had the most peaceful sleep of my life.
This energy also supported and enhanced my meditation practice, making it seem easy. The peace of this setting allowed me to find the peace within myself. And finding the peace within myself allowed me to understand the nature of change.
We each have within us a silent rock. It is perched at the edge of an infinite sea. Sometimes the sea is calm and the sun shines, sometimes the sea storms and lashes the rock. But the rock never changes, never moves. It is the still centre. Once we have a sense of this rock, this still centre, and realize it is our centre, we can allow the events of life and the storm clouds of emotion to flow unimpeded. We can choose to respond or react, or not. We can allow change, because we know that our essence never changes.
I had no idea what would happen when I went to India; it was a risk and I was afraid. But I’m glad I did it. After spending a large part of the last 15 years of my life studying and practicing Gestalt Therapy and yoga I’ve learned that the essence of both is the ability to respond creatively to change. In India I learned that my suffering arose from my struggles with change: my inability to accept change and my efforts to try and stop it. I learned that the heart of what yoga has to teach is acceptance and love and to truly, deeply, go with the flow.
© 2008, Mariellen Ward