My encounters in a yoga ashram altered my perception of life

I stepped out of my journalism career three times in my life before retiring for good. The first was when I decided to move to the ashram where I could immerse myself in yoga philosophy and practice. Responding to Swami’s invitation to settle into her rural setup was something I did slowly and deliberately, with a large degree of trepidation. As I relate in my Yoga Bootcamp novel, the daily life was intense and evolving. Leaving the ashram was a different matter, with others largely resolving the outcome – out you go. For weeks afterward, I felt myself falling helplessly through space. Eventually, I reestablished my feet on the ground and then headed off for a new life in a town I call Prairie Depot.

The paperback cover …

What happened for me during my residency was life-changing. I regard it as my master’s degree and my introduction to psychotherapy of an amateur sort. Among other things, it led me to the Society of Friends, or Quakers, which turned out to be the faith of my Hodgson ancestors from the 1660s down through my great-grandfather.

In the novel, I chose to confine the structure to a single day, in part because I had so many lingering questions I could not answer. Yes, within that day individuals could look back on their previous history, but the focus was on the NOW. And a lot could happen there in a 24-hour span. Besides, as I later learned through some candid discussions with a former Episcopal nun, monastic life has some commonalities of its own. As she said, some of the most intense interactions came in trying to choose the flavor of ice cream when the rare opportunity arose. I’ll argue you’re the most human under such rarified circumstances.

On top of everything, when I was drafting the book, I was out of contact with the place and its people. Critically, I had refused an order to return to the ashram after I’d married and moved to Washington state and a follow-up stipulation of heavy financial support was out of the question. A half-dozen years later, back on the East Coast, I had an opportunity to stop by but was not admitted into the house. I did learn that Swami had died and I sat by her grave. So much for making amends.

… and the back cover.

Since then, I’ve reconnected through social media with some of the key players and had a few assumptions, not in the story, deflated. In addition, Devan Malore’s “The Churning” reflects life there a few years after I’d moved on.

The story itself could have gone another way, if I hadn’t wanted to present the ideals that drew us together and kept us going. Especially the humor and playfulness.

More compelling for many readers would have been a more sordid tale of just one more “new religion” outfit run into scandal of a sexual or financial sort, preferably both. There were enough elements for that, as I’ve since learned.

The story first came out as a pioneering ebook in PDF format only and was later updated to Smashwords and its affiliated partners. A more recent, quite thorough recasting (again, blame the influence of Cassia in “What’s Left”) changed Swami from female to male and introduced Jaya as one of the eight resident yogis, thus linking her to the heftier Nearly Canaan novel. Besides, the transformation made Swami more acceptable to the expectations of many readers and allowed the Big Pumpkin and Elvis dimensions. The role was already unconventional enough, and this was more fun.

Am I still doing yoga? If you mean hatha, the physical exercises, let me say rarely and embarrassingly, at that. As exercise, I’ll substitute my daily laps in the swimming pool, and as meditation, my weekly Quaker meeting for worship. And no, I’m no longer vegetarian, other than when I voluntarily follow the Greek Orthodox “fasting” of Advent and Great Lent (again, blame Cassia), though I also eat much less flesh than most Americans. Actually, in these seasons, the Eastern Orthodox Christians are stricter than we yogis were.

I do wish there were a similar haven for youth today, one freed from the burden of student college debt. I’ll let “Yoga Bootcamp” stand where it does.

 

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