In February, I had the good fortune of spending some time alone at a Hindu monastery, or ashram, on (ahem J) Paradise Island in the Bahamas:
A short 3-hr flight directly south from Pearson; a world apart. Breezy, mild Bahamian air awaits me, pastel colored architecture, turquoise sea. Impossibly large cruise ships dock nearby. Leaving the vacationing hoards, we take a short ride in a small motor boat to an oasis across the bay. Carefully getting onto the dock at the Sivananda Yoga Retreat, we step through into the hush of a community nestled within a woods of palm fronds. There are orchids growing from their trunks, unusual birds foraging below, people softly padding among them lost in thought or conversation, perhaps humming a tune. There are open spaces for yoga classes, meditation and chanting nestled into the trees or by the beach, smaller buildings and tents everywhere else. Most of us are a rainbow of color except for the swamis in orange and the novices and teachers in yellow and white. My senses are full of the wonder of the place. Beautiful sounds: bells, harmonium, cats meowing, laughter, songs, waves crashing. Beautiful sights: vivid paintings of the gods, an endless horizon, watching deep hugs happening, seeing twinkly lights through the trees. Beautiful tastes and touch: vegetarian wonder food, heaping piles of fresh fruit, bubbly foaming waves flowing through my toes, the textures of the ground and sand as I walk around barefoot.
Wake up time is 5:30, and the day is mapped out with meditation, prayers and chants, yoga asana practice and meals, all of which happen twice a day. Time in between for naps and communion with the ocean, for buying warm chocolate orange cookies in the shop, for catching swamis and teachers to ask pending questions and for philosophy with new and old friends. I am filled up by everything. I am here for a Krishna Das kirtan retreat (he is a Grammy-nominated Hindu chant leader) which includes two workshops and three 3-hr intense chanting sessions. I am a bit starry-eyed since I am a long-time fan. It was absolute bliss. I wept my eyes clean, sang my heart out and danced my feet off. He believes love to be the universal truth; that everything, everything we seek is already within our hearts. To be happy, we need to do our practice, whatever it is, to calm the mind and be present to each moment, to that universal source of love and to the love which connects us to every living thing.
I’ve left the ashram now, both deliriously happy and aching from the loss. Wistfully remembering the nourishing sunlight, the genuine, joyful smiles shared, my heartbeat pounding along to the tabla drums. Most of all I am missing that feeling of surrender to the ass-kicking, structured bliss of spiritual life in paradise. My work now is to integrate the practices into this “mundane” life, to breathe deeply and with awareness, to practice mindfulness and kindness, to live with an inner paradise and share it with those around me. Until next time…