A devotee’s reflections while on retreat at the ashram

windowSheets of grey clouds blanketed Taos Mountain, frost held onto the newly uncovered blades of grass that where raked of leaves from the day before.  The kitchen was warm compared to the outside.  Four brightly colored glass candles were still burning from the night before in front of Neem Karoli Baba’s picture; today was Diwali-the festival of lights.

It was early morning, my favorite time of day, the time when the void of unconscious night gives way to conscious creation and manifestation.  I prepared a fire in the wood burning stove in the sun room, for Hanuman devotees who would shortly be arriving for the 7am Arti and also for those coming to attend the 11 o’clock program that day.

I had been going through a difficult time and was feeling disempowered.  I was having thoughts of unworthiness in my professional life, as the path before me was once again muddled.  But, in that moment of doubt and uncertainty I focused on my breath.  It was a wonderful thing to focus on in that moment as I stirred freshly ground ginger into the 15 gallons of chai we were preparing on the stove.

IMG_1361The chai was done and offered to Maharaj-ji. Now it was time to prepare for morning Arti.  “Hanuman likes bananas for his morning prasad,” the caretaker said as he prepared the various offerings to be made.  I grew up Catholic and now consider myself a Pagan, but these Hindu rituals are still new to me.  In a strange way though, the rituals in and of themselves were comforting.  After the candles where lit in the temple, we started to ring bells and someone blew the conch shell in the four cardinal directions.  Bells are used in many traditions and the familiarity of them was a calming presence – once my body was jolted awake by them.  As we sang through the litany of prayers for arti, I sat on my knees and found myself rocking with the rhythm, as I read the translation to myself.  Hanuman, the reliever of suffering!  As foreign as all this seemed, I must be in the right place in this moment.  I needed some comfort, to be relieved of my suffering.

After Arti, I returned to the kitchen.  It was bustling with people preparing for the days meal. There was laughter and joking about the recent goings on at the ashram. The conversation brought an image to mind of the ashram being like a giant set of lungs. There is constant exhalation of fear, sadness and frustration and then an inhalation of creative energy, hope, joy and love.  Maharaj-ji helps transmute the energy in each breath by inspiring and reminding us of our own divine power to do the same.

I empowered myself through ritual that morning; through bells, through song, through meditation and through cleaning and preparing 15 lbs of potatoes for the prasad.  I focused on my breath, on my laughter and on my intention of Seva. Nothing transmutes the feeling of hopelessness more than serving others.

On my way home that evening I received a text message from a devotee with a picture of farolitos lighting a path in the dark, it read, “May your path be lit with miracles.” I reflected more on Diwali, the festival of lights.  Shine from the inside out, there is a divine spark of light within each of us no matter how dark your path may seem.  Share your light with others in order to warm your soul.  Namaste