ashram |ˈä sh rəm| noun (in the Indian subcontinent) a hermitage, monastic community, or other place of religious retreat for Hindus; a place of religious retreat or community life modeled on the Indian ashram. Oxford American Dictionaries
I have always said that if left to my own devices, I would probably become a contemplative of some kind: a nun, a renunciate, a priest, I would live in a great and silent monastery and life would make sense. I count my happiest times as those during which I was on one retreat or another, and could soak up the silence of my space, contemplating WHAT IS from afar. My mother used to tell the story about how, when I was a very small child, maybe a toddler, I would play a game called “Mary,” that is, I would get my babydoll and wrap it up in a blanket and drape another blanket over my head and sit before my “Christ child” with hands folded and head bowed. I vaguely remember this game, and the question that occurs to me now is one that can’t be answered after this much time: how long did I sit in this attitude? I mean, I could have really racked up some karma points! Given the results of my early practice, however, I doubt if it did me much good, although it is always interesting to think about this kind of thing in terms of the soul memories it might reflect, one’s divine inheritance.
And I am glad to say I seem to be living in a self-styled ashram right now. Perhaps it’s all in the perception. As I gradually became more and more disabled by my current physical problems, I naturally withdrew, and I began to realize that whatever else all this is about, it has certainly allowed me the time and solitude for remembrance. There’s nothing to it, really: I just spend my days alone, while my family is away, and then open up to them when they come home in the evening. Not a real ashram, you might remark, but again, I think it is all in the perception, and I have come to cherish my days alone. I do not spend them in intense meditation (at least not all of them), but I have been able to get past all my “shoulds” to a place where I actually choose this time, and relish it. It would be nice if I could get out in nature more, but I enjoy my deck, and I sit in my rocking chair and look up into the trees in the blossoming Spring, and…notice. Try to be fully present to the moment. I listen to the wind whispering through the branches and am reminded of various retreats in very beautiful places, and I soak up the increasing heat and try to open myself to it, rather than hide from it as I’m inclined to, and it reminds me of one brief retreat in the desert: rising one morning to go outside and listen to the pure silence and watch the changing pink and lavendar colors of the dawn over the pristine, arid space all around me…. It is in these moments that I am able to recall where I come from, and I notice that I have an increasing recollection of the home of my soul, and all I enjoy there.
I have been working with two particular wazaif (think: mantras) that facilitate the journey that seems to have begun: As my mind slows its endless chattering (or it at least grows dimmer), I work with my gradual experience of the expansion of my understanding in the vastness of Being, and try to pay attention as I breathe in that vastness, swelling my soul with its munificence. Increasingly, I find myself wondering what it is that’s expanding and what it is that’s contracting on the breath, because there is this growing sense that there is no one there to breathe, and no one inside to receive that vastness…and yet, despite this annihilation of my sense of myself, I become fuller and fuller with THAT, while in my “off” hours, I continue to be just as much of a screw-up as I’ve ever been, and I’m entirely capable of snarling at my husband or cursing at the dogs when they disappear into the brush where I cannot chase them, and I continue to procrastinate with all the projects that need doing and that, in fact, I want to do….
And time–or whatever passes for time–goes by so quickly, yet my days and nights have a silent, sacred, slow flow to them that feeds me, and makes this phase precious. I truly can’t imagine what the future–or whatever passes for the future–holds, but I find I care less and less. I suspect something will come along eventually to light a fire under me (whatever that is), but I am too content to worry about it. What healing there is in just paying attention.