By Anna Ellery
Two years at an ashram in India transformed Anna Ellery and enabled her to accommodate to change with grace and ease
Sending two years at the Satyananda Bihar School of Yoga, Munger, India, has changed me in many subtle and not so subtle ways. The benefits of staying away from the material life while undergoing many austerities, has begun to unfold.
I reached Munger in December 2011 for the Sanyasa course. Many expectations crashed and burned as I realized that the course description was a far cry from what I thought it would be. I found that it composed of just seva. I was prepared for hard work, but I was also eager for knowledge that would help me help others. Still, I persisted. With faith, I worked for my guru for two years, trusting that some positive transformation was occurring.
More than the knowledge I thirsted for, in retrospect, it was the living that made the difference. When living in the ashram, we had to adapt to change very frequently. We would have to shift rooms, lugging our belongings, after discarding inessentials, to another building which was often up the steep hill on which the ashram stood. From the bottom of the ashram to the main building is the equivalent of six flights of stairs! During my stay I must have changed rooms at least 12 times. Furthermore, a couple of times per year a group would be informed that they would be moving to the sister ashram. Our feelings towards this were often mixed, especially as sometimes we would not be told how long we were going for. Now I recognise that this built strength within us, and helped us practice non attachment (aparigraha), and come to terms with what is. We have to shift and adapt to circumstances, and our experience of it can be either pleasant or unpleasant depending on our inner dialogue and emotions.
Swami Niranjanananda, head of the ashram, gave the metaphor of an electrical plug. We have to disconnect and reconnect when we encounter change. The challenge is to transcend attachment each time we reconnect. Leaving behind craving and aversion, we merely do our best in the environment and circumstances we are in.
There is a wonderful little book called Who moved my Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, which I read shortly after leaving the ashram. The book talks about how we typically resist change, and lead confined lives only because we are fearful of the unknown. It is told through the metaphor of two mice in a maze whose cheese supply is moved. I remind myself now that my ‘cheese’ is always moving and changing. With faith I can believe that the Creator has the best intention and plan for me. If I follow the path that instinctively and intuitively feels right, I find myself moving in what seems to be the most soul nourishing way.
One of the side effects of the transformation I underwent, is that I no longer fit into the mould that others had cast me in. Yoga has taught me to shed limiting ideas and behavioural patterns that do not reflect my present understanding that we are all that spark of light, spirit, and unconditional love.
This understanding was particularly intense during my first Yoga teacher training in 2005. My then teacher, Jani Baker, was firm and insistent on showing us how our ego mind distorts our perception on reality, and that any experience of unhappiness is due to our mind’s way of categorising everything into like or dislike (klista/aklista). When I started contemplating my reactions to my world, I became less reactive. This prompted my boss in my retail job at the time, to sorrowfully ask, ‘Where is the old Anna?!’ To him I was more ‘fun’ when I was gossiping, and interested in drama and parties.
On my return from India I found that my family too was somewhat disconcerted by my quieter personality, and they often referred nostalgically to how I used to be. In the ashram our schedule used to be very busy with seva/karma yoga. When we did have the opportunity to socialise we talked more succinctly, our conversations often centering on what our troubles may have been at that time, with the intent to help each other out with our understanding. Also in the ashram we practised mouna (measured speech) which made us more aware when we did talk that we were not just talking for the sake of it. I found this was often the case in family social situations when I returned to Australia, where conversation would revolve around politics and weather. Thanks to the rigour of the ashram life, we were constantly brought to the present moment, instead of rehashing old memories just for something to say.
All these simmering changes came to a head when I participated in a Theta Healing DNA3 course. We did an exercise to find out our divine timing. This is learning what our present purpose (dharma) is now, or in the future. I visualised going to the Creator to see what my divine timing was for this stage in my life. I was transported to a vision of swimming in a large lake with mountains on either side. I couldn’t see what was ahead, I knew it was good and kept on swimming. I felt so peaceful, purposeful. On reflection I realised how much it reflected my present state of mind, which enabled me to just swim peacefully along, enjoying the pleasure of what was.
We have to shift and adapt to circumstances, and our experience of it can be either pleasant or unpleasant depending on our inner dialogue
Through my time away from normal society, I was able to appreciate life and the choices we have in life, with freshness. We can always change our circumstances and choose which emotional state we want to be in. Sometimes we feel that we can’t, but really we can. Out of the ashram now I truly appreciate peace, a state that I can consciously hold and create around me by my choices. In this way I am flowing with change, while containing a reservoir of stillness within.
Bio: Anna Ellery is a yoga teacher, artist and Theta Healing practitioner. She is currently teaching and living in Melbourne, Australia.
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