by Swami Lalitananda
When some of us arrive at Yasodhara Ashram, we recognize a path. This happened to me more than half a lifetime ago now. The yoga seed was already in me. As a young adult in the 1970s I found yoga, I needed it. I practiced, studied and meditated on my own. It was the “something else” that I knew must exist, an expansion beyond daily survival. Years later when I attended my first Yasodhara Hatha Yoga class, I was dazzled. I walked out of the classroom after end relaxation and asked, Where am I? Nothing was the same or familiar; it was like a disorienting return to a vast dimension.
When I was introduced to Dream Yoga, it was like receiving the key I had been looking for. I had written down my dreams for years, sensing their preciousness and potency, but didn’t know how to access their meaning. I learned to select key words and ask the simple question, What do I mean by “woman,” “love,” “car”? I was astounded to discover that these very ordinary words were symbols rich in layers—layers of my thoughts, my meanings. Yoga, in this tradition, was about revealing myself to myself.
I see people come to the Ashram, questing, drawn by something invisible—what Swami Radha called “divine appointment.” It’s as if something in us knows it needs a way… and maybe this is it? For some people, like me, it is.
The Ashram offered a way into my mind—a way to learn, to explore below the surface, to open up and question what I hadn’t even realized were my assumptions. My first workshop with Swami Radha in the spring of 1980 was Mind and Consciousness. “What is mind?” she asked that first evening. “What do you mean by consciousness?” I could not sleep and spent the night following rambling thoughts, trying to find out what “mind” is. I went in circles and spirals and down twisted paths. “Mind” was refusing to be defined or captured. I was so surprised by my own ignorance. Why had I not asked myself this essential question before? After all, I was a psychology major and it was my passion to know about the psyche. And now Swami Radha was demanding that I think in depth. What did that even mean?
Swami Radha called yoga a path of awareness. The term used now is often “mindfulness.” Awareness is directing attention, being awake, learning and applying what you learn in your life. It is facing what comes up in life with courage, trusting the power that underlies change, even when it seems harsh. Awareness is being open to what is and working with it.
The Ashram is a place to cultivate awareness. It is a place that grows people—a physical place of beauty in nature; a spiritual setting of intention, care and compassion; sacred ground to work things out, to face ourselves honestly, to rub against each other and polish our edges. Here we remember the mystery, the endless quality of Light, and we question always to find out more. Together we serve and invite in. We lift ourselves up with practices and develop flexibility to turn rigid concepts upside down. We remember the sacred and are dedicated to holding tenderly those who come seeking.
Swami Radha said it so simply. Ask yourself, What is the purpose of your life? That is the beginning of self-inquiry; that is the start of the spiritual path. This is what the Ashram is here for.
That Yasodhara Ashram is my home seems unbelievable. Years after those first encounters, I continue to explore and appreciate the open-ended nature of mind. I see the power of spiritual practice to calm the ripples so there can be an uprising of insight. I see the depth of unconscious potential like layers of mountains.
I was outside, knocking on many doors when this door opened to an endless source of continuous learning. This Ashram demands receptivity, challenges complacency, gives us work and frees us through work. Here we can balance karma through an attitude of offering. And from here, we can carry this attitude wherever we go.
We can change the world drop by drop, stone by stone—a flowing river, a rising mountain. We are the change. This is what the Ashram teaches me. That this place exists fills me with gratitude. And it is open to all.
About Swami Lalitananda
Swami Lalitananda is the president of Yasodhara Ashram. A swami since 1996, she is the author of two books, including The Inner Life of Asanas, and she was a columnist for the award-wining yoga magazine, Ascent.
Read her other articles in Reflection from the Path.
“I was outside, knocking on many doors when this door opened to an endless source of continuous learning. This Ashram demands receptivity, challenges complacency, gives us work and frees us through work. Here we can balance karma through an attitude of offering. And from here, we can carry this attitude wherever we go.”
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