Ryan Koelwyn has been connected to Yasodhara Ashram since she was five years old. During the two years her father lived here, she would regularly stay for weekends and extended visits. Now living in Calgary and working on her PhD in education, Ryan talks about how her foundation at the Ashram informs her life.
I was always a very curious child, questioning everything in the world around me. I would constantly ask “why?” — about everything — and not be satisfied with just any kind of answer. Key to my development was the environment around me encouraging that characteristic to come forth.
Riding in the car with my father between Creston and the Ashram every other weekend we would talk about big questions like “who are you?” That road is so comforting to me the way it winds down the lake. As we’d talk about deep philosophical things, I’d feel like I was getting rocked back and forth as we’d talk. Now, I use my curiosity to ask questions about others in my research.
I have a couple of distinct memories of Swami Radha from that time. One is of eating breakfast in what is now Main House. Swami Radha was there getting her breakfast together and my father and I entered at the back of the line.
Everything was so new and different to me, a child eating breakfast in silence. It was overwhelming. Swami Radha caught my attention and when our eyes locked she stuck her tongue out at me and made a funny face. I smiled and suddenly all of the awkward tension I was holding released. So much was communicated in a silent moment.
Spending so much time at the Ashram at a young age provided me with a foundation to form ideas about what a healthy community looks like — especially in regard to the treatment of others. I take this into my work on shame. I’m interested in evolving the conversation from shame to care. Shame reveals what we care about and how we care for others, including the ‘other’ in ourselves.
I’m really interested in mental health, depression and addiction, but feel the science behind those constructs is often reactive. Professionals come up with a label and treat the symptoms. I wanted to get at the heart at what might be underlying these symptoms without imposing labels. That’s when I discovered shame.
My thesis is centred on youth grouped into ages 12-14 and 15-18. For my research, I will have them explore their experiences of shame and support their capacity to translate those experiences into self-made films. Media literacy is an important part of our culture and its creation is a skill everyone can learn. Using video is also a gentle way to enter a theme such as shame. It removes the component of having to articulate that which is difficult to put into words.
Being here as a child was such a gift. I know my story is not unique and that the Ashram has always welcomed families and children. The special part was having my curiosity nurtured as I developed my sense of self. I have such gratitude to the Ashram for opening to me and seeing the value of families visiting. Now, I can share the opportunity for self-exploration with others.