My first journey to India was in 1992. I was 17 and the trip would set in motion the roller coaster that would be my life. But as in any amusement park ride, you have to wait in line. That trip to India lasted only two weeks. I stayed the whole of the trip in Amritapuri, the ashram of Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma).
At that time the ashram was pretty small, at least compared with today’s city-like stature. There was a heavy haze of mysticism pervading the atmosphere. The Amrita University Campus hadn’t yet sprung up and so it was only spiritual seeker’s coming together in the middle of a tiny fishing village along the Arabian Sea.
When I got back to the US I had changed forever. I started wearing dhoti (the South Indian style wrap) instead of pants to high-school. In Seattle (my hometown) Nirvana was big at that time. Guys in dresses? Not so much. But Spike Lee’s Malcolm X had come out that year so most people had the thought that I was a “Black Muslim,” and left me alone.
My focus was only on getting back to India and I wanted everybody to know it. I was moving on – moving forward. I skipped my senior year of high school to start college early in order to get my life to the next stage. But was I ready?
Over the next couple of years I would beg Amma to bring me to India. She would always tell me to finish school. She was trying to slow me down but I was determined to show her that I was ready. Then in June of 1994 Amma said, fine, you can try. I didn’t really hear the words that she said. I didn’t register that she was conceding to let me try what she was warning me against. All that I heard was that I could go to India, and I was on the next plane.
Often, when we come to spiritual life we are so fired up and filled with so many new ideas that we forget that the Guru is the Guru for a reason. This was one of those times. I had gotten the Guru to concede to my wishes, to follow my likes and dislikes, and so I would have to learn the hard way. I had read a few books and felt that I was ready for anything that spiritual life might throw my way. What I wasn’t ready for was being just one of hundreds of other devotees. In the US I had some status but in India I was at the back of the line, a new trainee.
One of the main objectives of spiritual life is to reign in the ego so that you can move past it to experience the bliss of attuning yourself to the universal consciousness. Sounds like a beautiful notion. In practice though, it might be the most painful thing that you try to do, for the ego doesn’t want to go and it is going to fight you every step of the way.
What my ego did was start to find fault with everything around me. Everyone else was stupid, every routine was useless, every sincere gesture became fake to a mind fighting to have an excuse to leave. And eventually that is what happened. I left. After one year, I packed up my bags in the dead of night and ran away. I was a failure at spiritual life.
Two months later, when I saw Amma again, she pointed out the fact that I had come to India for spiritual life and all I did was find fault with everything. She was right. I spent the next 16 years living in one of Amma’s US ashrams, where I first finished my college degree, and then went on to work side jobs until one day I got a call from Amma. It was time to move to India. And after 16 years of training in her western branch I was ready for the real deal. I was ready for Amritapuri.
I had come back to India for months at a time most years but it was only when Amma called me to live permanently in the Ashram that I finally had the confidence to know that I could do it, that I was indeed ready. It took those 16 years for me to mature and fully appreciate all that the ashram had to offer.
I’ve heard many people say that ashram life is like running away, as if we couldn’t hack it in the real world. Those people have no idea. The entire world is there in the ashram for the entire world is fighting within each one of us. To live in an ashram means to come face to face with ourselves and to truly be able to do that can take a lifetime of work. But what better work is there than to discover ourselves while serving humanity. I thank Amma every day for putting me on this rollercoaster… even if the line was pretty long.
Written for Dungeon Prompts: Overcoming Ourselves
featured image via Wikipedia.org