5 powerful lessons I learned staying in an ashram

When taking a trip to Gyan Sarovar, Mount Abu, one is instantly reminded of the world that's meant to be. Through innovative retreats and meditation sessions, this spiritual sanctuary invites us on a journey of self-discovery

by

Somya Mehta

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Gyan Sarovar, Mount Abu
Gyan Sarovar, Mount Abu

Published: Thu 16 May 2024, 7:07 PM

Last updated: Thu 16 May 2024, 7:11 PM

Picture this. Sun shining bright, giving plants just the right shade of green—the kind that breathes life into you. Next minute, the sun welcomes the clouds with open arms, making way for rhythmic rainfall that falls on top of the gentle hills. Filled with flora and fauna, which reflects the nurturing fertility of Mother Nature in every inch of its boisterous blossom, butterflies flit across from flower to flower, their beauty unassumed and knowing no bounds.

Every single soul in sight, smiling at you—and not the plastic kind that you see on social media—but real smiles that go deep within, akin to the depth of vast oceans. Work is still happening—and serious work at that—but it’s all in the spirit of play. Similar to what Shakespeare famously said, “All the world’s a stage” and all the human beings we see there, merely players. Almost feels too good to be true, but guess what? Such a place exists, and not too far out in the galaxy, but here, on our Earth.


In the month of April, come the time of my annual leave, I planned a trip of a different kind. Contrary to the usual choice, I didn’t go searching for a luxe location, overflowing with all the contemporary desires that modern life is made of. Don’t we get enough of that in Dubai? I asked myself. Famous authors often say that reading is a writer’s biggest virtue. I beg to differ, the art of disconnection is a writer’s biggest virtue. I believe that if you’re constantly plugged in as a writer, your perspective gets coloured and clouded over time—and I don’t mean that in any poetic sense.

So, as a writer, I am constantly on the lookout for innovative ways to disconnect and reconnect—with myself. Overtime, what has really come to my rescue is meditation. Often misunderstood as a concept, meditation for me, has always been a way to charge my battery. Much like we connect our precious phones to their chargers, meditation works for me in similar ways. A way to recharge myself. Because given the times we live in, it’s awfully easy to keep operating on ‘low battery’.


So, when the opportunity arose, of being able to immerse myself in a meditative retreat and go deeper into the practice—I embraced it with open arms. And off I went to Mount Abu. Nestled amidst the Aravalli Range, Mount Abu stands as a unique gem in the crown of Rajasthan, India.

Unlike the predominantly arid landscape of the state, it offers a refreshing change as the only hill station in Rajasthan. Its vivacious greenery, cool climate, and picturesque surroundings draw visitors seeking respite from the scorching desert heat. And there I was, feeling like a tourist of all sorts in my homeland, all set to immerse myself in the 4-day spiritual retreat at Gyan Sarovar.

Translated to ‘Lake of Knowledge’, Gyan Sarovar is a sprawling campus located in the tranquil surroundings of Mount Abu dedicated to personal transformation and the pursuit of spiritual knowledge. Designed to foster personal growth through various programmes, retreats, and meditation sessions, the place offers a peaceful environment that forms the breeding ground for introspection, learning, and self-discovery.

Throughout the year, Gyan Sarovar hosts various spiritual retreats, seminars, and conferences on topics such as self-transformation, positive thinking, and holistic wellness. These events attract people from all walks of life to experience the power of living a meditative lifestyle and how its practical benefits can be applied to our everyday lives. I use the word ‘practical’ because all the information we receive is broken down in a very pragmatic manner rather than in ambiguity, a term usually associated with spirituality. So, here are five very practical things I learned from spending time at the ashram.

Power of silence

The first thing that immediately caught my attention when I arrived at Gyan Sarovar was the power of the silent moments in the campus. Silence, we’re often told, can be deafening, but similarly, it can also be immensely powerful and peaceful. And that’s what you get to experience in between the pauses of a sentence or in the classes you take at the retreat, where each meditation coach and expert makes you experience guided meditation.

Referred to as Amrit Vela, each day of the retreat begins with morning meditation and the practitioners tell us about the powerful benefits of meditating just before the break of dawn, around 4:00-4:45am. Initially, seeing this timing on your itinerary may throw you off completely, making it seem entirely impossible. But as we begin to give it a chance, we realise there really isn't any other time of the day that is quieter and more peaceful than this time. Meditation, which would otherwise become a tedious task through the course of my busy day, suddenly seemed effortless and instinctive at that hour of the morning.

Meditation Dome, Gyan Sarovar, Mount Abu
Meditation Dome, Gyan Sarovar, Mount Abu

Designed for beginners, even if you have little to no experience with meditation, the practitioners guide you through the process, teaching you the principles of Rajyoga meditation, which is designed to help you re-discover and reconnect with the talents, powers and values lying dormant within you.

Power of spending time with yourself

Our inner voice is what we neglect the most on a daily basis. We listen to everyone but ourselves and then in times of distress, when we’re tasked with making a significant decision, we expect our inner voice to be loud and clear. Instead, what we get is confusion. Because we don’t train our minds to listen to ourselves on a daily basis, the voice inside gets cluttered, unclear and hence, confused. Bit by bit, if we dismantle all that our inner voice tries to tell us, we get better equipped in understanding the everyday stressors, things that may be triggering to us, what gives us energy and what takes it away.

In a retreat designed to make you communicate, not with the people next to you, but with the person you spend the most amount of time with—yourself—you get to uncover the vast treasure trove of abilities and powers that lie deep within you. The forgotten superpowers of love, peace, happiness, kindness, that make you human. It reignites your ability to make use of these superpowers in your everyday life.

Harmony Hall, Gyan Sarovar, Mount Abu
Harmony Hall, Gyan Sarovar, Mount Abu

Power of service

Wherever you go on the campus, you are met with incredibly helpful people smiling ear to ear, who in fact radiate all of the qualities mentioned above, of love, peace, purity and immeasurable joy—through the way they greet us on a daily basis. We can’t help but reciprocate with smiles just as big as theirs because their selfless service makes the heart dance. In fact, coming out of the ashram, I developed the habit of always having a smiling face, even to strangers. A practice that seemed perfectly natural at the ashram, was met with raised eyebrows and confused strangers wondering ‘Why on Earth is she so happy?’ outside of the ashram. A stark contrast to the way of being, it made me think to myself, have we really normalised upset faces? A frown on my face wouldn’t bother onlookers but a smile makes them wonder? Have happy faces become such a rarity?

Not at the ashram, though, where thousands of people have dedicated their lives to running the smooth operations of the place, so visitors like us can have the optimum experiences. Besides the dedicated people who call the ashram their home, there were several volunteers who take out time from their life—just as busy as ours, with demanding work schedules— to come and serve at the ashram, as a way to give back to society. In a day and age where business teaches us to be transactional, service teaches us to give, give and give some more because that is what makes us human, making us experience joy and happiness that money can’t buy.

Power of simplicity

At the ashram, it’s obvious that nobody will be living an exuberant lifestyle but what that does for us, as visitors, is gives us immense perspective. Of how little we truly need to live a happy life. Spending time there takes away all the frills you believe your life depends on in the city and you’re forced to look at things that truly give you life—meaningful connections with other human beings. Yet in our contemporary urban settings, we get disillusioned into thinking that material wealth is all that matters, so much so that we’re willing to give up genuine connections and relationships in our life in pursuit of it. No wonder, then, at the end of gaining all that material success, we still find ourselves feeling empty on the inside.

Another aspect that I thoroughly savoured was having Sattvic food during my time at the ashram. The term ‘Sattvic’ is derived from the Sanskrit word Sattva, representing purity, lightness, and clarity. Central to Sattvic principles is the use of fresh, natural, and minimally processed ingredients and the impact it can have on your overall health and wellbeing is immense. Unlike heavy, greasy, or overly spiced dishes that may burden the digestive system, Sattvic meals are designed to be gentle on the stomach, promoting optimal digestion and nutrient absorption.

Power of surrender

Power of silence, spending time with yourself, service and simplicity all point you towards the fifth and most important power—to surrender. What you realise staying at the ashram, is that stress is a vibration, fear is a vibration and much like the radio tunes into the frequency of a channel, we tap into a vibration in our day-to-day life. At the ashram, happiness is a vibration, love is a vibration and peace is a vibration, so we tap into that frequency. But these experiences exist even outside of the ashram. In our busy city life, we are tuned into stress, fear, anxiety but the vibration of happiness, peace and love are still ours to choose—we just choose it less. As human beings, the power lies within us, to choose the frequency of vibration we want to tap into. And if we surrender, and experience life as play, the frequency automatically tends to get connected to the ‘right’ channels.

After the 4-day retreat, unwilling to leave the place that gave me so much life, I continued my experience solo. Spending time in another one of the campuses on the foothills of the Aravalli Range, called Shantivan, further expanded my knowledge about the seamless operations of the ashram, which has many different campuses spread across the mountain range. All while mentally planning my return trip to this tucked-away gem of quietude, where life comes to life and reminds us of a time that was always meant to be.

somya@khaleejtimes.com

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