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Reflection on an Asram Experience

ireland ashram howthAnna Fiona Keogh reflects on her experience of an Ashram last year at the Stella Maris Retreat Centre in Howth.  Following this there is an invitation to experience the 2013 Ashram organised by the Sanctuary from 30th June to 26th July.

My experience of an Ashram, July 2012 “Ever since I heard about my friend spending a month in an Ashram in Canada, I had this notion that I would take a month out of my life and go to India to do a ‘proper’ Ashram. However, as time passed it dawned on me that the likelihood of this possibility to journey to India became ever more distant.

So I was rather pleased when I realised that an Ashram was going to take place in Stella Maris, Howth, Co. Dublin within an hour’s reach of home. I managed to make a 3 day space in my timetable and booked myself in as a residential guest.

What was I expecting? Lots of time to retreat, and withdraw; time to relax and refresh. I surmised that surely I would have lots of time in a day beginning at 6.15 and ending at 8pm!

However, when I got there I began to realise that the ashram was not about escaping or withdrawing from life. Rather, it was about living each moment fully; mindfully attending only to one thing at a time – be it eating, listening, having a shower, meditating, moving, walking, noticing how I was feeling at any particular moment... I discovered that the time went by incredibly quickly, in fact, I didn’t have any time to write in my journal or read as I supposed. The day just flowed along, moment by moment.

I had originally been attracted to the ‘yoga’ element of the ashram as I have been enjoying ‘yoga’, or what I thought yoga is, as a physical practice to keep fit for years. However, I was soon to discover that I really had no idea about ‘yoga’ really means. Fr. Korko, director of the ashram, introduced us to a fuller understanding of ‘yoga’. There are 4 types of yoga which we practised daily.

The first type of yoga is devotional. Bhakti yoga is about fostering love of, faith in, and surrender to God. We practiced this as a group in at least two beautiful daily rituals led by Fr. Korko.

Then there is karma yoga which is a central part of the ashram. I found it an inspiring way to think about ‘doing’ and how I go about doing things in my daily life, even mundane tasks which I normally find myself irritated by having to do. The word karma is derived from the Sanskrit kri, meaning 'to do'. In its most basic sense karma simply means action, and yoga translates to union. Thus karma yoga literally translates to the path of union through action. It is a liberating activity serving humanity mindfully without any attachment or egoism.  Karma yoga can be applied to everything you do: from the most trivial ordinary tasks, to greater more challenging works.

Rāja yoga is concerned with the mind and its fluctuations, and how to quiet or master the mind's fluctuations. We practiced this numerous times through out the day when we meditated and did morning exercises together. There are eight parts to rāja yoga, including a code of conduct, learning to regulate the breath and meditation. Another part is what the average Irish person associates with the term ‘yoga’ – a set of physical exercises people to do keep fit. This small part of rāja yoga is less about keeping fit, I discovered, and more aimed at the integration of mind and body through physical activity.

Finally, there is  jñāna yoga or "path of knowledge” which is about developing our knowledge and understanding of God. We practised this during the day with two input sessions, one general session and one on the mystics.

One thing in particular stayed with me since the ashram – how I eat! Although I had some experience of mindful eating, I was surprised by how challenging and rewarding it was to eat each meal mindfully. Fr. Korko’s words still may with me, guidelines which seem to be simple enough but not so simple to follow: ‘If your mouth is munching, the hand is resting. If the hand is doing, the mouth is resting’. Eating mindfully, I realised, doesn’t mean planning the day while slurping my soup. It means simply slurping my soup – savouring the flavour, noticing my response to it, tasting the metal off the spoon and sensing the shape of the spoon in my mouth. Mindful eating doesn’t mean thinking about what my next mouthful will be, it means simply paying attention to one mouthful at a time.

My experience of the ashram was allowed me to go further on my journey of coming to know, and being with God. As Fr. Korko described, an ashram is basically a place for meditation and self discovery for those who are thirsting for God experience.”

Ashram Experience 2013 – organised by the Sanctuary at the Stella Maris Retreat Centre Howth. This community experience, within the natural beauty of Stella Maris, will offer you an opportunity to experience meditation, silence, simplicity, peace and inner stillness, to enrich your spirit and enliven your faith. To book a place visit the Sanctuary website (http://www.sanctuary.ie/conferences-and-events/ashram-2013.aspx) where you will find an information sheet and booking form. Sunday 30th June – Friday 26th July 2013  €85 a night or €80 a night if staying for five nights or more.

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