Sivananda Blues and Beyond

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Sunrise Meditation at the Sivananda Ashram in Neyyar Dam.



Its 10:30 at night, I’m laying in a Lungi in a single bed, surrounded by a blue mosquito net in a small town named Neyyar Dyer Dam, partly questioning my decision to commit to an 8 day intensive yoga and meditation retreat at the Sivananda Ashram.  I came for yoga, but the meditation and chanting of devotion to Ganehs, Vishnu, and Shiva makes me uneasy, and on this Shabbat, I miss my family and “my” faith.  Sitting in ½ lotus and chanting tonight, I felt a renewed calling to go to Israel.  Periodically it wells up in me, beckoning me to revisit a spiritual homeland that I’ve seen once 17 years ago; and to which I’m sure I’ve over romanticize.  Nonetheless, this yearning to visit undeniably pulsing somewhere deep inside.



Getting here, as always, was a bit of a mess.  I was told yesterday to take the bus direct to Neyyar Dam.  Yesterday I successfully did a dry run, and confirmed that there was a direct bus every hour.  However, today I arrived at the bus dept, in the heat of the 11:00 sun, and was told the only direct bus was 1:30, and that instead I should take another bus and transfer.  No one was particularly friendly or helpful, except one gentleman who walked me to the bus going the “wrong” way and told me to get on.  I declined, wandered aimlessly trying to get someone’s help, then relented and took the bus going to some unknown town – hoping it would guide me to where I needed to be.  Once aboard, things were much smoother, though I’d sweat through my shirt by that point.

  The conductor on the bus and the transfer station gently guided me to Neyyar Dam, then the rickshaw to the ashram.  I checked in, had tea, and took a beginner yoga class. 


Last night was a sleepless night.  Mosquitoes literally swarmed my budget hotel room.  My friend, who I met on the train, had bedbugs in her room.  I complained in the morning, and the reception guy simply said, “Oh, you didn’t have mosquito coils, you should have asked.”  Like I should have known to ask…  So today, laying in sivasana between poses, I fell deeply asleep. 


In the few days here, I’ve met some amazing people, psychologists, journalists, writers, and teachers.

  Amazing people doing wonderful things for the world.  It truly is inspiring.  Still, as Day 2 ended, I wondered whether the whole thing was a bit cultish.  So much chanting, tambourines and drums to Hare Krishna.  But the people here didn’t seem “cultish.”  I wonder if I will end up in an airport someday collecting money and chanting “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna…”


The Ashram itself is tucked away in the palm trees. The crickets and frogs fill the evening and mosquitoes land all over my mosquito net, unsuccessfully attempting to feed on me.  I sleep in a dorm with about 20 others.  I practice yoga twice a day in an open auditorium.  On the walls are illustrations of Hindu deities and Jesus.

  My knees still hurt a lot, but I’m learning to simply accept the pain as an experience and a circumstance that cannot be changed.  I am no longer frustrated by it, but rather simply sit with it.  Otherwise, the practice feels good. 


Unlike my Vipassana retreat, Sivananda is quite social, and adjusting to meeting and talking to others while in the ashram environment is a lot like going away to school and meeting new classmates.  This is good for me and I try to assertive without judging myself.  And it’s very different suddenly being without Dan.  Amazing how everything can change in a day. 


12/25/07:   Christmas at the Ashram


Its funny how the same situation replay themselves, ringing on nerves like nails on a chalkboard.

  Today, I found myself in a bit of depression.  I’m not sure whether I was feeling sorry for myself, though maybe.  Or maybe it was just that it was x-mas and I was away from my family and my former “extended” family.  But I watched as the people I had become friends with laughed and talked with one another.  I felt excluded and left out.  It stimulated memories that drift back through time, back to high school, and before that even.  One thing India does to me is somehow distort the whole “space-time continuum” – for lack of a better word.  And what I mean, is that here events happen, a trigger happens.  Then I have a response, usually emotional, often sad or envy.  And then I sit with the emotion for a moment and I’m carried back through many similar triggers.
  But it’s not like an “Oh, I remember when moment,” its more like riding a cloud instantaneously through my entire life.  And those triggers from a decade ago or 2 decades ago play out in real time – all over again.  I sit there on my emotional cloud and watch them, observe how I react to them from afar, while somehow already feeling the sadness I’m floating on.  If that makes any sense.  And so today was that kind of day.  It was Christmas and I watched everyone cozy up to one another, and I felt a bit excluded, like I was not interesting, and had nothing to contribute to the conversation.  In a way, I also hated the fact that I’ve devoted the last 4 years to practicing law, a subject that no one, including myself, really wants to talk about.


In spite of the Holiday Blues – I did have fun at the Christmas party, which may be the first time I ever sang Christmas carols.

  The photos accurately depict the entire weirdness of the evening.  Christmas, in and Indian Ashram, Jews singing Christmas Carols, and the Nativity Scene next to Shiva.  Love that Indian Cultural Curry. 




I skipped 6:00 a.m. meditation and chanting this morning and opted to sleep-in an extra hour.  I woke at 6:30 to the sounds of everyone chanting.  Laying there in a single bed listening to the crickets and the sounds of 100 or so people chanting, I was struck by what a unique experience I was having.  Yoga twice a day in India, the sounds of singing mixed with crickets, and the gentle sounds of rain falling from rubber and coconut trees.

  In spite of my bouts of depression, I really enjoy this place.  The people are warm and friendly and real.  Some are airy, some grounded. 


Lately I’ve been struggling with the question that I’ve always tried to figure out; “What am ‘I’.”  I’m starting to feel like I identified myself by my job ~ I’m a lawyer.  Leaving my job, my 6-year relationship, and my home has disrupted my “identity.”  I feel uncomfortable in my skin and socially awkward; like there is a camera on me.  I want to meet people, but I get nervous and quickly run out of conversation.  I listen as people converse in multiple languages and laugh during their long conversations.  I watch, feeling relatively mute.

  As these layers of ego and emotional triggers reveal themselves, I’m unsure how to react.  Now that I see them, I’m not really sure what to do, except not to react, to merely just observe these sensations as they arise and pass.  Maybe its old sankara rising and passing, maybe I’m just creating new sankara with attachment.  Maybe I’m still more concerned with acceptance by others than self-discovery and satisfaction ~ well anyway – its time for tea.




Amazingly, after a slight 2 day depression, life springs back and the lesson of impermanence is relearned.   Astonishingly, the next day brings “hellos” and smiles from people that never said Hi before.  Why the universe sometimes feels receptive to me I don’t know, but I will honor it.

It is a welcome change!


On the 26th, in honor of the lives lost during the 2003 tsunami, I attended a prayer ceremony with several Sivananda friends.  The speeches, few in English, were quite boring.  The mere 50 or so people that attended did not warrant the PA system which blasted sound for at least a few blocks.  India can be so unnecessarily loud. 


Following the speeches was our turn to do a puja.  Though I couldn’t hear the instructions, a sweet and beautiful young Indian woman guided me.  She smiled at me as I clumsily tossed fragrant flowers in the oil and wood fueled fire; the smell of incense mixing with smoke and the temple behind.

  It was a beautiful, humorous, and spiritual evening. 


One piece of India I try to fit in the spiritual puzzle is the poly-deity worship.  Worshiping one god, a nameless, faceless ubiquitous presence conflicts with the practice of prostrating and offering devotion to Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesh, and Saraswati. I was reluctant to pray to these gods and goddesses.  But I guess I’ve reconciled to some extent by accepting  the unity and singleness of all living things.  Each is separate, but really the same, a part of the whole.  So making puja, making offerings to all named and unnamed gods, just becomes part of my own faith. 




I woke this morning with a horrible pain down the left side of my back.

  I must have pulled something the day before, maybe in a twisting pose.  I don’t know.  I returned to the beginner class and took it easy again.


That night we attended a puja atop a nearby mountain at a Kali Temple, which was really just an altar.  We chatted at the top long after everyone else began descending from the ceremony.  As usual, our group of 4 was last down, and we got “lost.”  Thankfully, one of the local Indian boys guided us back.  That evening, after evening chants, I confirmed that I would leave the Sivananda Ashram 1 day early and accompany Mark, Lucy, and Jen to see the “Hugging Mama” at her Ashram the next day.

  Ironically, had my back felt good, I might have stayed for my one last day at the Ashram.  But it hurt, so there was not much more to gain from a day of beginner class, and I really wanted to get a hug from the famous guru. 


That evening I packed up and began to think about what I should ask for.  According to “Holy Cow” one may ask the universe for something during the hug.  There the author, in disbelief and impulse, asked for bigger breasts, and got them (at least temporarily).  But in “Eat Pray Love,” Richard asked God to open his heart and let him know when it happened.  He underwent open heart surgery.  He concluded he should choose his words more carefully.  Now I was faced with the question of what I “really want.

” With this in mind, I went to sleep. 

RBatra says:
Loved it!
Posted on: Sep 16, 2014
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Sunrise Meditation at the Sivanand…
Sunrise Meditation at the Sivanan…
photo by: royalrider