I have been thinking about the question of who am I? When I first came to the Ashram, I was looking for something better. I didn’t know anything about yoga. I began to relearn a lot of things and this has helped me find out who I am.
Being from First Nations background, I know that my family has a rich spiritual background. I lost touch with this when I was growing up.
In our native culture a lot of things aren’t written down, so the yoga teachings have been a way for me to understand more what my spiritual beliefs and understandings are. I find they’re all interconnected somehow and being able to put words to these—what would you call them? cosmic questions?—are helping me understand who I am.
I find this is what Swami Radha’s and Swami Sivananda’s teachings really do— they help me put words to emotions and feelings and wonderings that I knew were there, but just couldn’t put words to.
I have been living at the Ashram for nine years and during this time I have been reconnecting with ideas and beliefs that have been with me all along. Being here has helped me understand what they are and bring them forward in myself and in my life. The ones that were already there have been enriched. There are core teachings in my beliefs like love, gratitude and respect. A lot of these are in the teachings that Swami Radha talks about in the Kundalini System.
My sister is also on a spiritual path and it was actually through her that I first heard about yoga. When she received her spiritual name Shakti, I didn’t know what it meant. Later on I found out it was the feminine spiritual power within. It totally goes with her.
This connects for me with what I think is the biggest thing in being here—the respect for women.
In our native culture we have a deep respect for our women as well. They are the life givers and they are respected and protected. I find that this connection has been a really nice way for me to give back and to reconnect with that aspect of my own spiritual beliefs.
Another connection is the Divine Light Invocation and a practice we do at satsang called Aarti. I find that doing Aarti is very similar to a smudge ceremony—being able to cleanse myself, offering prayers to my higher self and to a higher being—a creator.
My partner and her mom were my connection to the Ashram. They talked about Swami Radha and the teachings when I was around, but I didn’t really understand. They talked about the Divine Light Invocation and the Light but I didn’t know what this was either.
I was living somewhere which wasn’t a good environment for me so when my partner passed into the Light and her mother asked if I wanted to come to the Ashram, I said, “Oh, yeah, sure, I’ll check it out.” We came for a ceremony that we offered for my partner.
Walking My Path
Coming from where I was and where I wanted to go—the Ashram offered a different path than what I was used to. I had been yearning to find a different path than the one that I was walking. I was going in the right direction but it was at a slow pace and I found that I had to do something that would be taking a bigger step instead of little tiny steps. Being here has been that bigger step.
I would like to reach out to people who are struggling with addiction and are looking for a new way—wanting to explore a better way, instead of finding a replacement for the addiction. I have found that the different types of yoga really help to explore and deconstruct the beliefs that go along with and are attached to addiction. I know that a lot of people would be willing to explore a different avenue.
There’s a lot of negativity with addiction and people think, “Oh everybody’s bad,” but you don’t really know the person, so you can’t really judge.
I was already making steps before I came to the Ashram to find a different path than what I grew up with. My first time at the Ashram was mostly to show respect and compassion for my lost loved one because she really wanted to come here, but she couldn’t. So I came to the Ashram to be here for her.
The next year was to be here for myself, and then the next few years it was for the community. Then it turned into being here for my mother-in-law because she can’t come here as much as she really wants to anymore. It is amazing how close we became after my partner passed away. The connection was built because of the changes I made for myself, by just being here—and for being who I am without the clouded judgment of my past. So I’m able to carry on their presence.
Remembering What I Know
When I first came to the Ashram I thought, “Oh, I don’t know anything about yoga.” The more I learned, the more I realized I had been doing yoga for a long, long time—like forever. It reminded me of things that I already knew. It has helped me recognize the things within myself that help support me to actually better myself. It has helped me let go of things that were attached to addiction.
One example is pranayama and controlling my breath. I remember calming myself down and taking some nice, deep breaths. Then I learned that pranayama is a yoga teaching that helps control the mind and helps with concentration and meditation.
Another example is the Kundalini System. The first three chakras have helped me look at my core beliefs and how I use my imagination. Following these steps, and seeing the cycles from the perspective of the fourth and fifth chakras has helped me rebuild my core beliefs and use my imagination in a better way—and direct it where I want to go.
Following My Inner Knowing
Today I have a better understanding of who I am and who I want to be. The teachings have really taught me to be aware and allowed me to have gratitude for my efforts and my experiences. My past experiences teach me and help me understand where I want to go. They have taught me exactly what not to do—to not repeat the same thing over and over.
Here at the Ashram, I have built ideals and have been able to achieve certain goals—things that were eating away at the back of my head— like going to school and being able to graduate.
I remember back in the 1990s when I was 18, I was two credits short of being able to graduate. I didn’t want to go to summer school because I was too busy being a young kid and wanting to party. Not going to summer school and not graduating stuck with me for all those years until I came to the Ashram. That’s when I had the idea, “Hey, maybe I’ll go back to school.” Just knowing it’s not too late to change things that happened in my past helped me realize I could change where I wanted to go in the future.
Going back to school and being able to walk across the stage with my little cap and throw it up in the air and get my diploma — I didn’t really need it. It was more my inner self that needed it. It was an achievement that I achieved on my own and it was a different alternative to hanging onto things that were wasting energy.
Bridges On My Path
Before coming to the Ashram I used to volunteer in the community I lived in and once I was here I found that Karma Yoga is kind of like volunteering, but in a different way. I didn’t realize I was doing Karma Yoga before I came. It’s been another connection I’ve made with the yoga practices.
Being able to help the Ashram community has led to going out in the local community as a volunteer. Through the support of an Ashram resident who was a first responder at the local fire department, I was encouraged to sign up as a volunteer firefighter. I took another step and became a first responder and then trained for medical emergencies. This has been amazing for me because I really enjoy helping people.
Being out in the community, meeting people and helping them really brings a lot of inner joy.
Karma Yoga, the yoga of selfless service, is just being able to offer without expecting anything in return. I realized this was what I was doing before I came to the Ashram. Selfless service is helping where help is needed.
Sacred Teachings Within
What I would like to communicate is that there is a path there and the Light is always shining in all of us. The practices and the teachings deeply ingrained in a lot of people and they don’t realize it. From my own experience I know that we don’t really know what’s in us already until we try. I found there are many beliefs I’ve carried within that just needed my inner knowing to shine Light on, so I could see more clearly. Being where I am today and giving myself the gift of the practices—new and old—has been the best thing I’ve done for my path so far.
Chuck McNab is Cree First Nations from George Gordon’s First Nation Ka-nĕwo-kaskwatĕw in Saskatchewan. He moved to Yasodhara Ashram nine years ago. In addition to being an inspiring example of Karma Yoga (selfless service), Chuck is a Yasodhara Ashram teacher of Hidden Language Hatha Yoga, Kundalini Yoga and Dream Yoga. He serves in the local community as a volunteer firefighter and first responder.