To start off with writing about my experience at the Ashram, I would like to answer three of the probably most commonly asked „western" questions in relation with such a stay:
1. Will you be spiritually brainwashed? - No. Definitely not.
2. Can you expect spiritual enlightenment? - That depends entirely on you.
3. Will you spend an unforgettable time with an Indian family? - Yes. Very much so.
Maybe some background information about me, so you have a better understanding about the person who writes this and how I came to make this experience: I'm a 28-year-old, white blond girl from Austria and have lived in Switzerland for the last 5 years. Although I had travelled several countries before and also lived abroad for several years, I had never been to India or Asia before. This is a very important fact, because it makes the entire experience even more intense. (For those, who have already been to India: you know what I mean...) I stayed at the Ashram for 3 weeks (Dec. 27, 2011 until Jan. 14, 2012).
After some very likeable and nice emails with Ramona, I finally arrived in Delhi at somewhat 3am in the morning, where the organised driver (no English) picked me up and brought me to Vrindavan. To put it in the words of a text message to a close friend: „We've landed now - airport is pretty nice and clean. Seems just like at home" 10 minutes later: „Ok. We're out in the real world now. This is crazy!"
You can imagine the Ashram as a family run guest house. During your stay, you have the priviledge of becoming a part-time family member, which is absolutely priceless. The family life runs its usual way and you can decide yourself, how much you want to be included or rather stay on your own. My volunteer work consisted of translations and homepage updates, which I liked a lot because I could deepen my theoretical knowledge about yoga positions. During my stay at the Ashram, I was completely FREE. I could organise my day just the way I wanted. Sleeping until 10.00? No problem. Practising yoga at any time of the day? Just go ahead. Facing „the real world" outside and visit the market? Sure - I'll take you, if you want. Especially Purnendu and Yashendu helped with the „logistical" aspects of going to the market, showing me around. Ramona always had an open ear for questions or stories and Swami Ji is really a „tangible" person. The food - cooked under the vigilent eyes of Ammaji (Mother) - is a pure delight. Each and every day. Never mind the little mouse that lives in the kitchen, she has her right to exist and is also part of the Ashram family. The food is cooked with fresh ingredients and in a very hygienic manner - not once did I have any problems!
I would say, that there is a very simple rule at the Ashram: You CAN do a lot of things, but there is nothing you MUST do. And whatever you do - it is totally fine. There are basically 4 fixed points every day (you can of course decide not to take part - complete freedom):
1. Morning chai
2. Lunch at 11.00 (before the school kids eat)
3. Afternoon chai at 16.00
4. Dinner at 19.00
Getting to know the daily routine a little bit, I enjoyed taking part in other daily Ashram activities like welcoming the milk man in the morning (he brings fresh milk every day, transporting big milk cans on his bicylcle), rolling chapati bread for lunch and dinner (also freshly made, every day), frolic with the school kids, play cricket with the Ashram boys, ...
Because the family has a lot of helpers (employees who take care of laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc.) there is always someone around and every evening, when I went to bed, I was already looking forward to their jolly „Good morniiiing" the next day. There were so many personal highlights, that it is really hard for me to pick out the best ones. Here's my attempt, though:
- Naniji (Grandmother) greeting me with a kiss on my forehead
- The first time, I managed to produce a perfectly round Chapati (thank you Babu & Matadi!)
- Learning the colours in Hindi with Surac (too bad I don't remember them!)
- Early morning Yoga with Yashendu
- Every market visit with guidance from Purnendu or Yashendu
- My first visit on the market without guidance from Purnendu or Yashendu (it took me 2 weeks until I was brave enough!
- Babbaji (Father) bringing me freshly cut fruit for breakfast
- Watch my beloved Pawan, Mohit and Jay Singh (Ashram boys) play Cricket
- Ammaji (Mother) showing me how to make „Gajar ka halwa"
- Giggling with the 3 younger Ashram boys when they would visit me in my room
- When I realised how much I missed Ramona while she was in hospital giving birth to Apra
- That I was one of the first persons to hold little Apra sunshine
- Being robbed by monkeys (oh yes!)
- The way that Indian people would stare at me with a mixture of curiosity and admiration (which is the exact same way I starred at them )
...this is the "enlightment" I found in India.
Yes, India is intense. Compared to western standards, it is incredibly dirty, loud, crowded, it stinks, there are animals on the streets and men urinating in public. Everything seems worn out or torn down or somehow not finished. However, if you are open to new perspectives and able to let go of everything you used to know - you will simply love it.
In my opinion, the key lies in seeing things as being „different". Don't try to compare them to your standards ending up with terms like „better" or „worse". In India, everything is just perfect the way it is! It's just nothing like you are used to. If you don't take YOUR understanding of the world as a benchmark, you'll be fascinated by the warmheartedness of the people, their candid smiles, the bright colours, the complete anarchy of cows, rikshas, tuk-tuks, trucks, cars, pigs, bicycles, pedestrians, monkeys and motorbikes on the streets (that somehow works! It's just not understandeable for us).
India teaches you to LET GO and indulge into the unknown. It shows you the inner beauty of all things. How little of the material goods you need in order to be completely happy and satisfied. And how precious the shades of genuine love are.