Photo by Vanessa Paxton
By Tina Su
After 76 days of living in an ashram in a tiny village town East of Bangalore in India, I am home at last.
I still have not found a proper one-liner that concisely answers the common question, “How was it?” A cliché “Good!” seemed appropriate to satisfy the questioner, but it is not the right answer. I’ve tried several answers and nothing seems to accurately conjure what I experienced. “I’ll write about it soon” quickly became my reply… and soon, I started to avoid people all together.
In this article – which is a personal update for those interested – I will attempt to share some slices of experience from my spiritual journey for the past 3 months.
There is so much I want to say, yet there is nothing I feel like saying. I wish to convey my feelings without words, but that isn’t possible over the Internet, so I will do my best with words.
Whenever reminded of my experience, my first instinctual response is to feel an utter space of peace, and sometimes, I feel like crying, tears of Joy and pain which I experienced and overcome, tears of gratitude … grateful for my transformation, grateful for the space of unattached clarity and undisturbed bliss. During this time, I had witnessed many miracles, which are truly beyond words and logic.
Seed of Enlightenment: Inner Awakening
Roughly 3 months ago today, I left for a 21-day spiritual retreat program called Inner Awakening. The program can be more accurately described as an intense process of inner journey for self-discovery and lasting inner transformation under the guidance of a living enlightened guru.
The program attracted seekers from around the world, from countries like Brazil, France, Italy, Germany, Holland, China, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, UK, Singapore, Malaysia, USA, Canada and (of course) India. One guy came from a small African country, he didn’t speak a word of English, but always wore a big smile.
A total of 300 people attended, with the youngest being 9 years old, and oldest participant being 71. People came from all walks of life, of various religious and social backgrounds. All sessions were conducted in English, with translations available in French and several Indian dialects.
The 21 days were tightly packed with 6 back-to-back meditation programs that explore various dimensions of truth, and gives us practical life solutions to transform specific areas of our life. Each program was designed to logically build on the foundation of the previous program and contributes towards the following program, leading towards the goal of the 21-day retreat: to quiet the inner chatter in our minds by over 50%, permanently.
For those curious, the 6 back-to-back programs are described below according to my own interpretation:
- ASP (2 days) – Understanding and overcoming emotions that lead to some form of suffering: fear, worry, jealousy, discontentment, depression, greed.
- NSP (4 days) – In depth focus on the topic of fear and the subject of death. Because all fears are rooted in our fear of death, if we can face our own death consciously, and understand its various components, then fear of it naturally goes away, and thus disolves the fear of everything else. This program clears pain, guilt, and all forms of fear which we experience. This program was one of the most profound and liberating things I’ve ever done.
- ATSP (2 days) – I don’t remember the details of these 2 days, but I remember being lost in joy and silence.
- BSP (3 days) – Awakens the divine qualities of love, surrender to Existence, compassion and devotion. A beautiful flowering of the self happened during this program.
- Healer’s Initiation (2 days) – meditation to heal the mind and body of physical illnesses.
- Nithyanandam (4-5 days) – An intensive and blissful multi-days process focused on overcoming the noise created by our mind. This program was challenging at first, but soon became my favorite program and I longed for more days.
My Inner Awakening Experience
I felt as though I was transported to another space and time, lost in a sea of utter happiness and seeing the world with such intense and undisturbed clarity. Never in my life, through all the different personal and spiritual growth programs I have participated in, have I witnessed and remained in such a space of mental silence and bliss.
On most days, the feelings were so expansive and profound that I felt as if I had just won the lottery, again and again and again. Imagine winning the 10 million dollar lottery everyday, consecutively for 21 days. Imagine the sheer excitement and surprise you will feel. That’s the best way I could convey what I’ve experienced during Inner Awakening.
The experiences were so profound in its truthful origin that I wanted to stay beyond the 21-day program. Seriously, if you just won the lottery for 21 days straight, wouldn’t you want to stay a little bit longer?
Simultaneously, the ashram was hosting a 3 months program called Life Bliss Engineering (LBE), which takes the essence from Inner Awakening teachings to another level. Knowing the growth speed of the number of participants in these programs, and seeing this as a rare opportunity, I wanted to stay… I didn’t want to wait.
After talking it over with my husband Jeremy and getting his hesitant blessings, we extended my trip, paid the tuition, and booked a new flight home for September. Thus starting my journey and the many inner struggles of in-depth transformation that happened in the following two months.
Life Bliss Engineering
Thirty four other people like myself stayed for the remaining of the 90-day LBE program after attending Inner Awakening. There were roughly 160 participants in the LBE program.
Many people had stories of personal sacrifice in order to attend the program: some had left their jobs, some had no homes to return to, some had relationship jeopardizes, and many had to put their family life on hold to be there.
Each time I was reminded of what some participants had to put everything on the line to be here, I would whisper a prayer of gratitude for the warm support and freedom I was fortunate to have.
The 90-day program took us deeper into the practical understandings of the original lineage of Yoga from Patanjali – the father of Yoga. To integrate what we learned in Inner Awakening into our being through many, many opportunities of personal and emotional challenges. The purpose of this 90-day process is to develop a yogic body and a strong Vedic mind – a mind free of conflicts and inner chatter. To top it off, we also did several travel study programs to important spiritual sites within South India.
The Remaining 2 Months – My LBE Experience
Photo by Katsuaki Shoda
I would love to say that LBE was fantastic… and it was. But it wasn’t what people expected. The obvious experience people expect is bliss, like you are floating in bliss for 90 days and then you leave. This was not actually the case.
In reality, it was a serious, intense and extremely challenging period in my life. In addition to learning many new intellectual knowledge about spirituality, my emotional and mental limits were tested, stretched and I got to practice many of the techniques I learned in Inner Awakening.
I have never experienced so many conflicts in such a short period of time. The 2.5 months felt as if I had live 3-5 years in the outside world. Miraculously, everyday, I would be faced with several new or reoccurring conflicts. The reoccurring conflict only subsides, once I am able to handle it with peace and ease.
On many mornings, I would want to leave, the pain I was working on seemed unbearable, but typically by the afternoon, I would sit under the 600-year old Banyon tree (which is the size of a city block) and wished that I could stay there holding it forever. The ups and downs I experienced were a typical story with every participant, and despite the painful moments of us facing our own issues, we would all agree that it was worth it in the end.
Sometimes, I would get so frustrated with myself that I would cry, but always, I could feel that there is a compassionate energy within the core of my soul that provided me with the cushion of safety, hope, inspiration and encouragement to keep trying. And one by one, challenge after challenge, I would cross it, and a space of silence, of possibilities, of life would gradually replace these various experiences of pain.
During this time, I witnessed many miracles, “unusual” things, most of which are too personal or mystical to share publicly. For one, why there isn’t a single drop of bird or animal poop under or on the Banyon tree, despite many birds and animals (like that family of monkeys) living on the tree.
With the quieting of my mind, the first noticeable change was my sleep naturally and gradually reducing to a quick 4 hours a night. I wake up feeling more refreshed than ever, ready for our 2 hours of daily morning yoga, before a ridiculously delicious breakfast with an unfathomable selection of food choices.
Speaking of food, the ashram and its working volunteers really went out of their ways to accommodate for our “Western” needs. They actually hired a chief from a 5-star hotel, and in addition to the vast array of Indian foods, we were provided with continental options like salads, pastas and plenty of tropical fruits.
At one point they even brought in an authentic Italian cappuccino machine for us. Here we were – in the middle of nowhere – surrounded by farms and tiny traditional villages, hours away from anything modern or noisy, and we had our choices of cappuccino, latte or mocha. It was a weird sight and overtly exciting at the same time. It’s too bad the life of this poor little machine didn’t last very long, after overworking continuously for the 150 coffee craving westerners who came back for seconds and thirds.
“What Did I learn?”
I’ve learned many life lessons and truths through personal experience during this time, here are a few of the ones on the tip of my tongue in this moment. Though many of the lessons below are seemingly obvious and are ones we may already know, they remain the kinds of things to be truly learned, and integrated into daily practice only through experience.
- Attracting Miracles – Gifts are constantly showered upon us, everyday, but we choose not to see them. All we have to do is walk outside, and we will find someone less fortunate than us. Everything that happened to us on our path to this moment was a blessing, truly. Count those blessings, everyday, be grateful for all that we have… from the sunlight, to our food, for our shelter, to our relationships, to our body. As we do so, we will witness more gifts and miracles occurring in our life, moment to moment, every moment.
- Overcoming Suffering – Suffering is a choice, even though during moments of intense suffering and emotional pain, the suffering seems unavoidable and that we are choice-less and hopeless. During moments of suffering, bring intense awareness into it, and tell it, repeatedly, “I will not mother these thoughts anymore! I will not create unnecessary suffering on myself! I will overcome this.”
- “The Running Mind” – On any given day, there is always something that presents itself as a problem that will bother us. When thinking about it, it seems like the most urgent and important thing, and indeed, it boggles our mind throughout the day. But the moment we replace that thought with another, the problem no longer seems so real. And when you overcome it, or stop seeing it as a problem, another problem will sure surface. That is the workings of our mind. It’s not real. Be aware of it.
- “It’s Okay to be Flawed” – It’s easy to judge people and point out their flaws. But when we judge, that quality which we are judging is a reflection of a flaw within ourselves. Truth is, we are all flawed, and pointing them out is the easy way out. Find the compassion and understanding to accept other people for who they are, allow them to be, for you too are flawed and surely, you would like others to allow you to be as you are. Overflow love towards that person, and see how you can shift your state of mind about that person. Look for the good.
- Bad Days – No matter how bad a day can get, it has the potential to instantly change and turn around to be a breath-taking phenomenal day. It’s happened before, so why not now? Never view a “bad” mood as a permanent thing, it is what you’re feeling now, who knows what will happen in the next 5 minutes, or one hour. Accepting the present for what it is, and welcoming the next moment with freshness can only bring wonder and joy to you.
- Choosing a Response – When another person is giving us attitude or saying things we don’t like, with awareness, we can choose our responses, including silence. Other people’s reaction to things has to do with them, and their state of mind. What others think, feel and chooses to respond is beyond our control. So surrender. It’s not worth spending energy on it. Let it go! It’s not about who is being the “bigger person”, it’s about recognizing an action that is fruitless and saving the energy to do something else conducive to your wellbeing.
- Blessings from a Rude Encounter – When another person is rude to us, perhaps the best lesson we can learn is how it feels on the receiving end when we are rude to others in moments of unconscious behavior. It’s a blessing. Secretly thank that person and whisper a silent prayer for them. It’s not worth getting all worked up and defensive. Find the lesson and move on.
- Nature of Discontentment and Complaints – The moment we complain, we are taking this moment for granted and we are missing out on life. When we complain, we are not appreciating or trusting the wisdom of cosmic intelligence, we become disconnected with the whole, with source, with our inner selves, with nature, with bliss. And we suffer.
- Expectations in Life – Expectations of exactly how things should be, how things should play out only leads to inner conflict and resulting emotional suffering. I keep re-learning this lesson, even till today. Because we cannot predict the future, and things never go as we expect in its entirety. Once we have our hearts and heads locked on a definite course of events, even a slight shift in change can shatter our hopes. Even the most secure relationships can have its unexpected turbulences. Even the most trusted friendships can take its turns from the promised future. Let whatever happens happen. Trust with great conviction that, “Whatever happens is the best thing happening to me. So let it be.”
“Can You Float On a Cloud?”
Photo by Lauren
When Jeremy returned to work the next day after I arrived home, his co-workers asked with a mysterious curiosity, “So, what was she like?”
His reply was, “Well, there was this cloud, and she was floating on it.” And for a few seconds, they believed him with wide-eyes before he burst into laughter.
No, I can’t levitate yet, nor do I intend on seeking such things. However, additionally to the countless life lessons I received, the priceless experiences, the significantly reduced mental chatter, and an in-depth practical knowledge of yoga, I noticed some of the following:
- Reduced sleep. No more than 5 hours a night is needed (usually between 4-5 hours will suffice). I wake up naturally at around 5am everyday without an alarm clock.
- Understanding what someone needs before they speak to ask for it, even in a different language.
- Fast, solid and clear decision making with no regrets.
- Sharp focus on whatever I am doing. As a result, things get done very quickly.
- Ability to shift my emotional state into a relaxed one almost instantly (within a few seconds).
- Heightened awareness of myself, and my inner state. I could feel the birth of a new thought being formed (before it becomes a thought) and clearly seeing it rising out of me.
- Lack of fear, worry or stress. I am pretty much relaxed most of the time, and when I am not for a brief moment, I could shift out of it almost instantly.
- Increase in memory. I remember and recall things without my explicitly trying to memorize them.
Parting Words: Embracing Enlightenment
Being in this spiritual incubator for nearly 3 months was the most exhilarating, profound, insightful, yet challenging (and at times uncomfortable) situation I’ve ever experienced.
I had come to the program with a deep desire to raise my own level of consciousness, to experience living enlightenment first hand, to transform myself such that I could integrate it into my life and to radiate it through my actions. With that as the measuring scale, the program was a success for me, and I am happy.
But sometimes, doing the right thing for ourselves come with sacrifices, even if we do not realize them at the time. In this case, the toughest bag was shouldered by Jeremy – who became my husband only 4 months prior to India. It was an unexpected, and unfair trade for him. For that, “I am grateful for you for putting my happiness above yours and hope that you could forgive me for being gone for so long.”
The challenges doesn’t end with the conclusion of the program, but merely just began as I stepped into the outside world. As I continue to work on myself, new and unexpected challenges are already being formed in front of me, once again my mental and emotional limits are being tested by the turbulence of life. But this time, I am no longer afraid. I surrender to life with open arms and an open heart.
For all the readers out there who have been waiting for articles in the last few weeks, I thank you for your understanding in my sporadic disappearance, and for continuously supporting me with your encouragement and readership.
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See you there!
For those curious to learn more about the living enlightened guru we affectionately call “Swamiji”, find out more on the foundation’s main website here. Or watch clips from his live talks on YouTube here (the playlists are very good).
Other Articles You May Enjoy:
- Living Enlightenment
- Time for a Retreat – Personal Update
- Find Clarity in One Day
- How to End Suffering
- 6 Steps to Eliminate Limited Beliefs
- 15 Simple Ways to Overcome Anger
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