I thought I would recap the last few days I have spent in the Ashram. So many people ask me what it is like on a day to basis. Since I have only been here a short time I am still settling into my routine. So here goes a long winded explanation departure from the states and of my first day in Amritapuri.
I left my home in Orange County, California around noon on September 1, 2016. My step mother took me to one of our favorite restaurants for a goodbye lunch. This has become a beautiful tradition for us. This time around I was anxious. Thirty minutes before I left my home I started feeling like I just didn’t want to travel on that day. Granted, I had just spent two long months in Costa Rica for an intense 500 hour yoga teaching and had only been back home for a week and a half to recuperate and reflect on my journey. To be honest, I wasn’t ready to leave home yet. Also, I was told the Ashram is really busy this time of year and that worried me. I have always found it difficult to navigate in large crowds since I am very sensitive to energy.
During lunch my panic began to escalate. I ordered a glass of wine to calm my nerves and enjoyed some light hearted conversation with my step mom. As we drove to LAX, I began to relax a little. I tried to remember that I had done this before. I know what to expect and I have friends excited to see me at the Ashram. I was going to be fine, right?
When I arrived at the airport, the line for Emirates was the longest airport line I had ever seen and I have seen a LOT of crazy lines throughout my travels. Long lines do little to calm my nerves so I started to pray while I waited for the line to inch forward. By the time I was finally checked in, it was time to go to the gate. Once I boarded, I slipped on my headphones and tried to meditate. My thoughts kept interrupting my attempts to go into a zen like mode. I gave up and asked the flight attendant for a glass of wine as soon as we were in the air. As I sipped on my wine and stared out of the window into the horizon, I wondered why I wasn’t in the mood to travel. I think because I haven’t stayed in one place for very long in the last couple of years, I am just tired. I may need a travel break. But if there is anywhere for me to reclaim my ZEN, it is definitely India.
The 15 hour flight to Dubai wasn’t pleasant. I couldn’t get comfortable and I couldn’t sleep. When we finally landed, I started to shrug off my anxiety and find my excitement. I was only a four hour flight away from my home away from home. I LOVE the airport in Dubai and did some exploring before I had to board my next flight. What I love most about the airport is how many different types of people you see. When I write different I don’t just mean people’s ethnicities, even though I have met people from ALL around the globe in that airport. I guess the difference I see most are in our walks of life. There were many people like me who I think of as wanderlusters, those who can’t wait to get their next travel fix. Then there were the families making long journeys across the world to visit loved ones. And of course, the business men who work in foreign countries before returning to their families whenever they can get time off. I adore people watching in that airport. I wonder about all of their stories. I feel connected to them in the most beautiful way.
I arrived in India at 3:20 am. The luggage took a long time so I didn’t get out of the airport until around 4:30am. Though I was exhausted, I was also excited. A driver the Ashram had sent for me met me as soon as I walked outside. We began the 3 hour drive to the Ashram while it was still dark outside. I couldn’t help but smile as I remembered the last (and first time) I came to India. I was totally in shock by my surroundings. This time I felt like I was home. When my driver made a stop for Chai tea and left me in the car, I had to laugh. This happened the last time as well and I was so confused. In America a taxi driver would NEVER pull over and have you wait in the car while he takes a 15 minute tea break. I find it hilarious how many differences there are in the two countries.
We made incredible time and I entered the Ashram just before 7 am. I checked in and received the wonderful news that a room had been reserved for me in my favorite building with my gorgeous friend Cora. Cora is one of those girls you can be around 24/7 without being annoyed. She has this easy grace to her. She is by far the best roommate I have ever had. It feels effortless to room with her.
After I dropped off my luggage, I went downstairs because I heard that my favorite Swami was doing a blessing for a new building that had been constructed. One of the first people I saw was Swamiji. Since I am not shy and have no shame, I walked right over and said “Remember me? I’m Katie and I sang in the Christmas play.” He nodded in recognition. Then I proceeded to tell him how I get so frustrated in India because I’m not supposed to hug men like in the US and that I wished I could just squeeze him. He laughed so hard and the sound of his laughter made my heart swell with joy.
As we rounded the corner to approach the new building I noticed a crowd had gathered and there were videographers recording the Swami’s arrival. I noticed a friend in the crowd who was looking at me with her jaw wide open. It was only then that I realized the picture we must have made. A holy man dressed in deep Orange with his male attendants dressed in white surrounding him. Then, there is me, fresh off a plane and still in my western clothes just strolling along right next to him. Most people wouldn’t approach such a holy man and engage in conversation, but then again, I am not like most. When I pray, I speak as freely to God as I would my best friend. I speak the same way to my Guru Amma and all the Swamis. Of course I have the deepest respect for them, but I simply can’t find a reason not to engage with them the same way I do with every other person I meet. We are all Love after all, right?
The blessing of the new building was beautiful. I looked around and saw so many of my friends that have become my family. When the ceremony was over I embraced them all. I knew in that moment I was EXACTLY where I was meant to be.
Next I headed over to the Indian Canteen for some breakfast. I love Indian food and was in heaven as I savored every bite. After I finished eating, I started shopping for supplies at the Indian Store. I purchased toiletries, bedding, organizers, plates, tea cups, and everything else I could think of for the bargain price of $20! Then I went to the shop that sells clothing to purchase the typical ashram wear. It is so much easier to buy clothes at the Ashram for affordable prices than to bring clothes from America.
By the time I finished shopping it was already lunch time. YES! I ordered my favorite entrée from the Western Café, a glorious veggie burger. It tasted like heaven. I dined with my friend and roommate Cora and caught up on what had been going on in the Ashram since I had been gone. Cora has been here almost a full year so she has so many amazing stories. I hung on every word. While we were eating I heard an announcement that people who had just arrived or where leaving should head to the Kali temple to receive a hug from Amma. I jumped up and ran to the temple.
There she was, my beautiful Guru Amma. Though I had seen her only a few months before in Los Angeles, seeing her in India is somehow different. I love being with her in her birthplace. As I waited in line for my hug I met a beautiful girl named Lisa from Holland. Lisa had also just arrived. Her story was incredible. Just months ago she was reading a book called “Eat, Pray, Love” and it really touched her. So, she went online and started researching Gurus. When she stumbled upon Amma’s website she felt a connection so she immediately booked a trip to the Ashram. WOW. So, I got to witness her first hug and it was such an honor. My hug was also special and familiar. She lovingly whispered in my ear, “My daughter, My daughter, My daughter.” I am sure she says this to many, but to me these words are so powerful. She is my spiritual mother and my direct connection to the unconditional Love I have always craved. There is literally no place I would rather be than in her arms. It is heaven on earth.
After my hug, I made my way to another favorite place within the Ashram walls, the POOL. I spend a lot of time at the pool when I am at the Ashram. First, because it is where I teach swimming lessons to the neighboring university students but also because I love to swim any chance I can get. As I waded through the water, I took in my surroundings. I couldn’t help but think how blessed I am. The feeling of being exactly where you want to be in any given moment is priceless. I wasn’t worrying about the future or reminiscing on the past. I was present and I was out of this world happy.
I had planned to teach my first swimming lesson at 5pm but since there were more teachers than students on this particular day I was able to leave and go back to the temple and spend time with Amma. Some of my musician friends were playing jazz and I let the music move me while I watched my Guru hug all the people who had traveled far and wide to see her.
Once I made my way back to the room, exhaustion hit. I went down for a nap and didn’t wake till 9pm. I threw on my clothes and headed out to join a group of musicians to sing. Next up, was rehearsal for the production that will be performed for the Indian celebration called Onam. I was so excited to see all the familiar faces I had had the pleasure to perform with over Christmas. It felt like I had never left. I quickly dove in to learning my parts and joined the singing. I feel so grateful to be welcomed back with open arms by these talented humans. Performing with them fills heart with happiness. We didn’t finish rehearsal until 11:30pm and when I got back to my building it was locked. I went in search for someone who had the code to the building but by this time the Ashram was deserted. Finally, I found someone who walked me over to the building and showed me how to open the locks.
At midnight, I fell atop my small Ashram mat and relaxed into sleep with a huge smile on my face. Day ONE in India was beautiful. I am so excited for what tomorrow holds.