With the intentions of cultivating inner strength and gaining knowledge and skills for my future, I kissed my boyfriend goodbye and left rainy Oregon. After going through security where I was thoroughly patted down, breasts fondled, dreadlocks individually checked, and my bag opened and searched through where they found a small pocket knife i forgot in there which they threw in the trash, and I made my way to my gate where I sat in a big wooden rocking chair with headphones in, and grounded myself in music that I am familiar with while rocking away my anxiety. My first plane was small, and I was snugly squished between a window and a woman who took up a few inches of my seat in addition to her own. When the flight attendants made an announcement that they “proudly” serve cocoa cola products and made their way through the isles passing out poison, I said “No thanks” and so did the woman in the seat next to me. I don’t know her or where she is at in her journey through life, but I felt proud of her for making that choice, to abstain from the fizzy, genetically modified, colored, corn syrup drinks, and the bleached, preserved, and fortified snacks.
Arriving in Seattle, I briefly got to see the sun set as I walked into the airport from the plane. My next flight was to Minnesota, where I had an overnight layover and would be confined to the inside of airports and planes for the next day. This plane to the frigid north was large and I had a window seat with the two seats next to me completely empty, and free WiFi. I spent the hours on the plane doing a tarot reading, listening to music, messaging my boyfriend Jay, and reading The Lonely Traveler. Missing Jay and my cats didn’t really sink in until I was spending the night in the airport in Minnesota with out a place to sleep or food to eat. I walked around in that airport and came across a cafe that advertised gluten free and vegan food, though it was closed and would not be open until I was on my next plane to Florida. I had packed a baggie of nuts and dried fruit, as well as hummus with vegan cheese on tortillas, and a salad, but couldn’t eat anymore. I Felt sick from eating the hummus, due to the mysterious ingredient “spices” which I have come to learn means “garlic and onions”, which I happen to be allergic to. With a migraine, nausea, and light sensitivity, I lied down on a bench near a bathroom with my phone charging and my headphones in, keeping myself grounded in the music, getting up occasionally to use the bathroom where I would wash away my tears and cover myself in the comforts of essential oils.
Before the sun was up I was on my plane to Florida, with only one more to go. I was able to sleep on this plane at least for a few moments, and it wasn’t long until I was on my next plane to my destination, the Bahamas. I was seated by the window again, next to a couple who looked at each other more than anything else. They gave each other massages, and the man caringly tucked a pillow under his partners head when she had fallen asleep. The few words they spoke to me were kind, though I mostly just listened to music and cuddled up to the window and wall of the plane. When I finally arrived and got off of the plane, I could hardly wait to breathe the air from outside. I waited for my luggage, and once I had it, I could barely stand. With all of my camping gear on my back and a little suitcase and backpack in hand, I set out for a taxi and a boat to the Ashram. I attempted to call for my boat, but the payphones only took Bahamian coins, which I had none of. I asked a man at a business counter to exchange some coins for me, but he offered me use of his phone instead. Once that was settled, I wobbled out to find a taxi, exhausted from lack of sleep, food, and heavy luggage.
A driver with an old hippie bus-like taxi picked me up, as well as another woman who was headed to the Ashram and we split the cab fare. The driver was very knowledgeable about the local history and businesses and gave us a guided tour as we drove. He mentioned the names of the streets and the reason behind their names, one was because president Kennedy visited there, and he pointed out the new sky scraping resorts that have recently been built. The vehicle he drove had him seated on the left, but I was unsure which side of the road was correct to drive on, as he seemed to be on both sides at different times. The streets were crowded, and he backed into a street to drop us off by the docks. We walked down to the water and it wasn’t long before our boat arrived. The boat man was young, flirtatious, and lifted all of our heavy luggage into the boat for us, reaching out a hand to help us in too. A few more people joined us in the boat over to the Ashram, including a woman from China who had a warm smile and heart that shined brightly with kindness. She said i reminded her of her daughter who is about my age. I The waves were huge and the wind was strong. We caught some air as we jumped across waves in the tiny boat, and a wave came over the side engulfing me in the salty waters, like a baptism sent from the ocean herself, of regeneration and purification upon my arrival.
Stepping off of the boat onto the Ashram dock, I was a bit wobbly. The sounds of a loud hum from the water treatment plant next door, police sirens, and honking of cruise ships passing by filled the air. I lifted my luggage once again and made my way to the registration counter where I filled out some paper work and paid my balance for my tuition and expenses in cash. I don’t have a bank account at this time and am trying out life without one, taking every step I can away from corruption, control, and the debt trap. I’d prefer not to even use cash, but, one step at a time. My new friend from China and I stuck together while we waited to be showed the places we would be sleeping. It felt comforting to make conversation and share experiences of past and present with a kind soul. She gave me a banana, and we talked about where our classes would be held. The Ashram has a strict dress policy of keeping your knees and elbows covered, and some people even said to keep your elbows covered as well. The man who showed me the spaces available to set up my tent had shorts on that were above his knees. The dress policy seemed a bit lax for men and for those who were living at the Ashram or working there long term, but for the guests, students, and women, it was a must.
I had just a few minutes to get my tent set up before orientation. I threw it together and put my things inside, hoping it wouldn’t rain until I got back to stake it down and add the rain cover. In orientation ,we were informed of our very busy schedule and given a tour of the Ashram. The next week was kind of a blur, waking up at 5:30am, having back to back classes after Satsang, 2 quick meals in a day that ended up making me sick (it wasn’t long before I wasn’t eating at all), Karma yoga (cleaning rooms for massage therapists, with harsh chemicals tested on animals, which i refused to use and convinced them to let me use something natural), and ending the days with Satsang again. I didn’t have much time to be at the beach, but when i had a few moments between classes and homework I would walk on the white sand an smile at the blue waters, picking up the trash brought in to me by the waves. Satsang started out with 30 minutes of meditation, 30 minutes of chanting, and then a 1 hour lecture on something. The lectures that I got to hear caught my attention and got me thinking, and I enjoyed chanting and having the time to meditate, but there weren’t many Sansangs like this before it turned into a week long party for the Ashrams 50th anniversary, which resulted in meditation and chanting being shorted to about 15 minutes, and instead of a lecture on a philosophical or spiritual topic, it meant mandatory participation in something I didn’t pay tuition for; listening to speeches given by government employees wearing black suits talking about tourism, and lengthy memorials about Swami Vishnu Shivananda’s life that would often run an hour later than scheduled, cutting into our very little time allowed for sleep. Swami Vishnu Shivananda founded the Ashram, and it is clear by the schedule that he was in the military prior to his spiritual awakening. He didn’t sleep much in his short life; There is no room for a personal identity or self care and awareness of personal needs in a military style ashram.
To realize the self, there is a time where one gets to know thyself, understanding what nourishes you and what burns you out. It’s part of being an observer, and one can do this without being overly attached. Know thyself, know limitations, know how your conditioning has effected your brain, know why certain thoughts and feelings are queued up in response to certain things, and know these things by first observing, silently, non-judgmentally, sitting with it and letting your inner teacher guide you. Know your purpose in truth, and know the actions to take in getting there, being still in the center, watching all of the dust settle around you, seeing what is clear. To know that everything but the mind is from the mind may bring perspective, but knowing when to be still and when to take action is effective. When resting and doing find balance, the stillness in the center has its purpose.
The nights were dark and stormy. One night I stood on the beach in the dark (which is against the rules), watching lighting seemingly hit the water around the island, lighting up the waves that seemed to draw me in to swallow me up. On the first stormy night I realized that my tent leaks a lot. Many of my things got wet, and the rain continued daily. My tent neighbor had brought an extra tarp that she let me use when she found out that mine was leaking. The wind was strong and tried to take it away from me a few times, along with branches from trees and other debris. I became more sick as the days went on. Each time I would go to a meal, I needed to wait until a chef became available to speak with me about the food ingredients so I could choose the gluten free and vegan options. The other kitchen staff was unaware of what was in the food, and we were not allowed much time for our meals. Sometimes waiting to speak to someone could take half of the time I was allowed for the meal and so I would guess my way through the line. It was rare that the food didn’t contain gluten and dairy, so the cook would save a little in the kitchen for me before adding those things. I wasn’t allowed in the kitchen to get my food and after waiting for someone to get my food, i wouldn’t have much time to eat, so I would barely chew it. The produce tasted like heavy pesticides, and i doubted that they even washed their produce before cooking and serving it. The foods served that are naturally gluten free seemed to have been processed in a facility with gluten. Food waste was thrown directly into plastic trash bags, along with the styrafoam dishes and plastic utensils used, which was then to be incinerated. The safety of the water was questionable for drinking and which they used for cooking, possibly containing harmful bacteria, and certainly containing sodium fluoride and chlorine. Each time after eating, I would become more and more sick with nausea, diarrhea, headaches, pain and cramping, and more. Eventually I stopped eating because it wasn’t worth it anymore to be losing more water and nutrients in a painful sickness than I could put back in. I was growing weak and weary.
One day I took a boat into Nassau in an attempt to find some kombucha or something to help my body balance out. Walking in the streets of the Bahamas resulted in a lot of cat calling, accusations of being a Rasta and a witch, and harassment and jokes about me “dropping plants”. I was unable to find any food items that were organic, affordable, or appealing in any way. Most things on the shelves resembled antifreeze with their neon coloring and heavy plastic packaging. The Rasta comments ended at the Ashram, but were replaced with fearful talk about witches, and teasing about being a hippie and my attempts to avoid harsh chemicals, sodium fluoride, dairy, and gluten. It is unlike me not to take the time for photographs of my experiences, but the strict schedule I was on really didn’t allow for it.
It was about 4 days of not eating and barely being able to hydrate before I left the Ashram. I decided to go late at night after Sansang when I began packing my things. I was very sick at this point, weak, malnourished, and dehydrated. I walked to the dining area to get water and on my way I was blacking out, losing my vision and hearing, unable to step I fell to the ground losing consciousness. Next I somehow found myself bent over the water fountain, filling up my bottle, with someone holding me up by my side. She brought me into a room and laid me down in a bed where she asked me what I was doing, and i explained that I needed to go home. She coordinated with the staff to finish packing my things for me, and have someone escort me to the airport. She helped me drink a big bottle of water, guided my chaotic mind into a breathing exercise, and helped me get to sleep.
When morning arrived, I got my things handed to me and was walked to a taxi. I wondered if the people who packed my things noticed my compost pile by my tent. I was informed that they were keeping my uniforms and my book which was included in the cost of tuition, tuition that is nonrefundable according to their policy. I had taken notes in that book, and my personal thoughts were written in its pages. A few of my other things were missing, but I didn’t notice this until days later when I was home. The journey home was long and hard, which included another overnight layover, in which I had to leave the airport to recheck my luggage and go through security a second time. All three times were invasive in different ways, this last one included TSA flipping through the pages of my book of shadows, while in the other they wiped my hands down with something to check for explosives, and there wasn’t a time where they didn’t physically look through my bags, pat me down in every cavity of my body, and check under my dreads. I nearly fainted in the airports a few times on my way home, and missed one of my connecting flights with how sick and weak I was. On my last plane, I got on before my boarding group was called, not knowing if i could stay conscious much longer and the employee taking tickets said it wasn’t my boarding group yet to which I replied, “I need extra time due to my medical condition.” He laughed at me with lack of understanding and judgement of my appearance, but allowed me on anyway. I was so happy to be on that last plane, just needing to hang on a little longer.
When I got back to Oregon, I was greeted with Jay’s arms of love that carried me and my luggage home, back to the forest, to the community of hippies, and to my cats. It took a few days to recover, but I instantly felt better when I was surrounded by familiar friendly bacteria and other life forms. I ate live organic foods from the earth with probiotics, walked in the woods barefoot to pee, and rested in bed with my cats, listening to the rain. There’s no place like home! The strength I cultivated and the knowledge I gained were not the ones I might’ve expected to get, but with an open mind I gained much from this trip. Freedom is so important, and to be in a restrictive environment showed how key it is to our survival and evolution. To be caged for even a short time, trapped in the little space of a plane, and an even smaller space of an airplane seat was so painful to every muscle and bone in my body. Even days, weeks after being home, I can feel their need to recover. I knew before leaving that I love this place, Oregon, the forest, my community, but this was brought to light even more. I belong in an environment which is conducive for care to the earth and myself, and the other life forms around me, in which I can observe and dance to the beat of my own drum, and exercise conscious with my actions, doing as little harm as possible, while also not taking shit orders for no good reason. Animals raised for humans to simply consume are in cages similar to mine of an airplane cabin, an airport, or a little ashram on an island with limited toxic food options and environmental hazards I can’t avoid. Humans are animals too, raised for other humans to consume from, in the form of taxation. From the routine bug spray that came out of the ceilings on the yoga platforms, the chemicals used for cleaning and sterilizing everything, the polluted air, to the noise and air pollution from cruise ships and giant hotels, the heavy low vibration that is the modern world aims to bring us all down to its level. We must resist the disrespect of existence outside of ourselves, realize that we are all connected, and seek to live in peace and harmony without forcing upon other living beings the harm that humans driven by scarcity and domination create. So much of our world looks like a relative gray, but if we can ground ourselves in love of our sacred mother earth, let the dust settle, we can see clearly and know that black darkness and pure light do exist, as well as many other shades of gray. Maybe we can’t always reach pure light from where we are standing in the darkness, but we can choose to do the best we can with what we have, truly, even if that means choosing a lighter grey, when we wish we could choose light. Don’t be discouraged with thinking of, “Since i can’t reach pure light, why even try, grey is just the same, its still grey”, remember that we are on a latter and we can either climb up or we can climb down. I have come to learn that as a sovereign being, I can choose the least harm option as often as possible, and each time I do it is a step in the right direction.We can choose not to step down the latter into darkness but instead rise up as much as possible. I choose a community of broken souls recovering from the world. I do not choose a military style ashram using force, control, and domination, a totalitarian airport violating natural rights out of fear. I do not chose strict regulation of food, standardization, exploitation of animals, humans included. We must understand the dark, but live in the light.
So it seems, you can’t put an anarchist in a military style Ashram…At least not this one.