Learning to be still


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Category: Reflections Date: 12 Jul 04


What led me, the rationalist, a cynic, the worst sort of individualist, who guards her privacy jealously, the person who shudders with horror at absolutes, at dogmas, to an ashram in Claxton Bay in the middle of a working week?


A cluttered mind-thoughts spilling untidily everywhere, rolling into incomprehensible splodges. Fear of the march of time, too tender attachments, of meaninglessness, of living in a country where a gimmicky spiderman grabs more attention than a kidnapped child.


All of that. None of it. I don't know. After fright there was flight.


So here I am in a room, perched on top of a double decker bed in a dorm, watching the thicket of varied foliage through the louvered windows. Minutes ago broad, jagged leaves were bleached by the noonday sun, then turned into a blur of dense green, weighed down by a patter of heavy raindrops, seconds later, now, a still-framed life.


There is quiet and time enough, here in these rooms on a hill surrounded by trees, to watch the oblong reflection of light on the pale green floor, observe the movement of my fingers on this keyboard, the interplay of bone, vein, skin and brain.


I drove past overgrown cane, uncut thigh-high grass to get to this hilly place, left behind in Port of Spain the rituals of my daily life, family, my home.


I nearly didn't get here-a mishap which necessitated a visit to a doctor giving my motherly heart pangs of guilt, a husband who said "don't go-stay", the birthday of a precious family member. It is easy when immersed in the din and flux of life to think of yourself as indispensable, to find yourself occupied, tasks, appointments, obligations, spilling over, to-do lists, wild juggling. There are always excuses to stay in the comfort zone.


I dramatically convert a three-day foray out of town into an exile. But to a city dweller the country, with its endless fields, narrow quiet tracks, tropical, bucolic quiet, languid dwellers, its sameness, brings on panic or inertia.


You're left with yourself. That's scary. What if I got to know me and didn't like what I saw? Easier to be deluded. Still.


And this was no holiday either. If we wanted to chill drinking cocktails in the sun and watch cable we were in the wrong place (I went with a dear friend-a second mother).


This much was implicit in the "Blue Star" ashram's guidelines set by "guru-ji"-Sri Vasudeva. There were rules. Dawn awakenings, meditation, seva (when the communal work was done-floors swept, dishes washed, food cooked, plants watered) guided meditation, simple vegetarian food which you served yourself, chanting before bed, a general hush, ten pm bedtime.


For 45 minutes during that first meditation on our first evening, in a hall flooded with dusty orange twilight, my eyes remained closed but my thoughts wandered-darting into troubled spots, reposing in little joys, circling puzzling issues. I was everything but quiet. While everyone else sat cross-legged on sheets on the floor or chairs I shifted my feet, wrapped my hands around my knees, shifted.


He held my hand at the end of it and said, "your eyes were shut but your mind was everywhere." I knew I came here to learn to be still.


He explained it better the following morning during the dawn meditation. His philosophy is based on the obvious premise that bodies age, houses fall, money is made and lost. That we all need to find a still place beyond our conscious minds where we observe ourselves, recognise the mortality of our bodies and the immortality of our souls. That's where peace is found.


It's quite the opposite of dogma, fluid as knowledge and change itself. Don't judge people, he said. Hold beliefs as ideas rather than dogmas-they may change with new knowledge, circumstance. That frees you from misery-no one is absolutely bad, or absolutely good-nothing is as bad or as good as you think it-nothing is absolute. Everything changes.


I understood what the scientist from America who has made the ashram her home was talking about. Sri Vasudev's essential message is recognisable in modern psychology and psychiatry.


Meditation is about taking charge of your mind, directing your thoughts, finding a cool centre to retreat to, rather than being flung about by circumstances.


The ashram community is diverse, from a Canadian postal worker, a Bajan acupuncturist to abused children from the neighbourhood-people who have been searching for meaning, and who, in the process of counselling troubled souls, working with the children or in the wellness centre, find a purpose in their lives.


One woman addicted to drugs and alcohol said she was able to replace all those holes in her heart created by addictions with her life here-rising at dawn, meditating, doing yoga, preparing meals and washing up in a communal kitchen, putting her academic background to use in the farm.


It is night-time now, and I can see the flares from the refinery, many torches lighting up the sky.


The narrow paths are dark with wild canes. Time for chanting. I am astonished to find that the scattered thoughts vanish with the night breeze, that the chant was a lullaby, comforting, a kind of faith.


As the chants continued - Sanskrit words, in praise of courage-I felt that quivering centre of mine get stronger.


There are still a few hours to go before I leave. Quiet can be weighty, a time to recognise how fragile we are, how easily swallowed up by the earth, how ultimately dispensable.


I'm thinking about what Sri Vasudeva said-that no one should go around with a begging bowl asking for love. That we must love ourselves first.


As I write this my phone, which went mysteriously dead within minutes of my arrival here, rings.


It is a friend. We giggle wickedly. My sister calls. We talk with comforting familiarity. My husband calls. Simply says, when are you coming home?


Life beckons with a rush. Yet my clamouring mind has been quietened. For now anyway.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur