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Satchidananda Ashram

January 2006


We left Cocoa Beach on New Year's Eve Day for Virginia.
The world around us was gearing up for one of the biggest parties of the year, and we were preparing to learn more about our true natures. We did a 24 hour car rental and stayed in a budget hotel, which was much cheaper than trying to fly to Charlottesville. This is what we looked like that day.

Yogaville wasn't how we thought it'd be.
The people who picked us up, one swami and one karma yogi, took us to a delicious Mexican dinner and even offered to take us to frozen custard. Then they joked and laughed on the way home. We were expecting nice people, but much more serene and... boring. We kept looking at each other like, "Can you believe this? An ashram where people are fun?" This is "the quad." There are four buildings: main hall for eating and meeting, a meditation hall and school, a library and boutique (a.k.a. a nice free pile), and dormitories.

My journey began in the woods. I have never spent much time in the woods, and it felt so good to walk the many miles of trails. In winter there are dead leaves everywhere, and I feel like a car coming through on the path because the dead leaves make so much crunchy noise under my feet. When I want to listen I have to stop walking. The deer always hear me before I get close to them.
I read a book about how to build a log cabin.
I really liked the woods, and I started to think I could live near yogaville. Then I thought, what would I live in? I read a book about how to make a log cabin. It's a lot easier and sturdier than I thought, though there's a lot of work involved. In a sentence: you chop down trees, let them season, and arrange them on top of eachother kind of like legos.

The forest was, obviously, radically different from my office or the streets of my city.
It had a cushioned ground, and there weren't any noises made by machines. There definitely aren't any clocks, though there's day and night. And night is really something else. I got pretty scared walking in the woods at night.

Everything is holy at Yogaville.
It even says in the handbook, that it's not safe for women to walk along the road at night, but that you are always safe on ashram property. Are you kidding? But as I started to walk around, the place really does feel so safe and holy too. I would just be walking along a stream, and then there'd be a statue of Mary with a rosary. Then across the stream would be Joseph. The funny thing is, 20 steps further was a Buddah sitting by a tree. People just put things in random places. I came across a japa hut of some sort when I was walking one day. It was built into some stones and made out of wood. It had a balcony overhanging a stream, and a sunroof let light in to the tiny place. Just enough room to sleep and meditate. One night when I was walking home from Lotus, there was an amazingly warm breeze coming from over the hill. It's just this mysterious place for me.


I tried not to be afraid to touch, taste, and smell things.
I had been reading "The New Organic Gardner" and a couple other books about how to run an organic farm, and how to muster up the courage to say goodbye to a society I am so dependent on. The books talked a lot about getting to know your soil. I started applying what they said to everything. Taking time and touching and thinking about how things work. Can you live from fruits and nuts? Will animals eat you at night in the woods? How did the leaves in this picture get to just this configuration, and how did the water find its path in just this way? Is there life after internet access? One book I've been reading, The Continuum Concept, talks about the difference between our concepts of work and that of a stoneage South American tribe. I used a lot of continuum concept principles to think about what work is like in the woods. Is it hard work to walk down to the stream and carry back water? What about building a house? Is that hard work? I am starting to think that working on such vital projects as these aren't work at all, unless I see them with my western eyes.

I went down to the farm.
The day after reading the book about building log cabins, I walked down to the farm and found one. They were using it for storage. A cat named Little Crazy came to play with me. This log cabin had the simplest types of joinings where you just cut the round shape of the log below into the log above so that they fit together. The cracks weren't filled with anything, and the floor was made of wooden planks. The roof was tin and had holes rusted through.

Jodi (aka Saraswati) really liked Little Crazy.
We walked around the farm and Little Crazy followed us everywhere.

It had frozen the night before.
It only froze once, and it was usually pretty warm, one day it even hit 70. As we walked around the ashram the day after it froze there were all these beautiful things the ice did. A lake froze in the pattern of leaves because of the leaves that had been floating in it.

Stuff poked right out of the frozen lake.
I guess it's obvious, but I had never seen frozen water with stuff "growing" out of it. The layer of ice on the top was so thin. we threw sticks onto the ice, but it didn't break.

There was a rocking chair by the lake.
The ice was doing different things everywhere.

Ice on the fountain at lotus looked like glass.
We were breaking pieces off and looking at eachother through the ice. I should tell you what Lotus is. It's the "Light of Truth Universal Shrine." It's amazing. It's a huge lotus flower containing two big rooms. The bottom room is "all faith's hall." There are 12 different shrines to 12 different religions in there. The represented religions include, Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, Africanism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and others. They also have some symbols representing Atheism and agnosticism, smaller religions, and one slot for future yet unnamed religions. The yantra (visible mantra) is symbolic of what was present at the hall

Upstairs in Lotus is again a representation of all 12 religions and lots of room to sit and meditate. Overhead the 12 religions come together at the top of a dome represented by a blue light coming from each of the religions. The blue lights come together and down in the center. This physical architecture represents the philosophy of Yogaville: Truth is one, paths are many.

"Truth is one paths are many" really resonates with me.
I have started to understand that there are two truths in the world. Relative truths, which are things that can change, like the capitol of a state... and universal truths, which are always the same and can be determined from looking inward rather than outward. While for some people this has always made sense, this only recently came into focus for me while I was at yogaville. I really feel like delaboring this. I just thought there were relative truths. I live in a postmodern world where you can see things your way, me mine, and then we can change our minds. I really felt like I had nothing to grasp onto that was sturdy, certainly no ground to build a foundation of beliefs to understand myself and my world. But now I can see that, to me anyway, there is one truth, even if I don't have it crystal clear yet what that one truth is. But I know it's there and I can sort of see it real blurry, like looking through ice. In yoga they call that ice "maya" and it is a veil of illusion. Anyway, the "truth is one" part is referring to universal truth. The idea is that reguardless of the methods you use or the type of person you are, you will eventually come to understand the same truth as everyone else at the end of your journey. This truth isn't really logical in nature, or rather logic isn't the tool I would choose to construct it. Although I guess logic is part of jnana (wisdom) yoga. It is hard to describe said Truth in words, but the translation of "yoga" from Sanskrit to English is "union".


Satchidananda's body is entombed at Chidumbrum
Satchidananda founded yogaville. Satchidananda studied with Sivananda, which is the first person to introduce me to yogic principles (through his books). The story of Satchidananda's entombment is kind of interesting. He went to India when he was ready to let his body die. Then his body was shipped back to Yogaville in a coffin to be entombed. Since they had laid him out in the coffin of course his legs were stuck straight. But traditionally he would be buried in the lotus (cross legged) sitting position. But instead of breaking his legs they just buried him standing up in a cement column in the middle of chidumbrum.

Right above the entombment is a wax figure of him.
Every day people perform pujas in front of the wax figure. The first time I saw a puja was at my yoga graduation when I got my teacher trainer's certificate. I thought it was really weird. They were pouring milk and honey over Sivananda's sandals and chanting. I was actually embarrassed because it was really "religious." Again, here at yogaville, I finally came to understand this ritual better. This is hard to explain but I'll do my best. In the yogic tradition to help you remove your ego you can take a guru. I think the guru is usually a realized being (enlightened). During the puja you submit your ego to the guru and give offerings as representations of this. Now even understanding all of this didn't help me understand why to do a puja. But as I was watching the day we were leaving I started to get it. I had just spent an hour being part, although minimally, of the puja. And all of a sudden I realized this. An hour is a long time, sort of like how long you spend watching a movie or something. You know how you feel when you are done watching a movie, let's say a horror movie? It's affected your emotions right? Or maybe even a documentary, like "The Corporation." You leave the movie fired up wanting to change the American market structure. Well when I left the puja I felt a little "fired up" to change my relationship with my ego. Now why I'd want to do that is a whole other conversation. But I'm starting to see how the way I spend my time doing certains activities has a big effect on the way I think, even if I'm not aware. This lesson applies to other ways of spending my time, like meditation or hatha yoga or driving a car or having conversations with certain people vs. other people.

It sounds pretty serious, but remember how I said it's silly too?
Well we were able to totally be ourselves, which hasn't always been true at ashrams in the past. I know that doesn't sound like much, but think me and Jodi totally being ourselves, and a bunch of deeply spiritual people not even flinching.

When I'd walked around in the woods enough, I started spending my free time at the farm.
They use Eliot Coleman organic methods with a little bit of biodynamic and whatnot. I learned mostly from Brad and Lyndsay on the farm. Brad's an old skater type from South Carolina. That truck in the picture drives like a boat.

This is the washing shed.
There's an assembly line for washing, cutting, packaging, and then driving produce to town. Guru Priya (sp?) is in there with Brad. She bakes some mean bread whenever she's the kitchen mom.

The carrots were being stored in the ground.
As the weather gets cooler, the ground is a nice refrigerator, and the carrots just get sweeter. I ate one right out of the ground.

Brad, Lyndsay, G.P., and the sky, discuss the day.

I think these are chives.
I'm not much of an expert on farming yet. But I'm going back for a month long internship this summer. I'll learn the ways apprentice style, and I hope to grow a lot myself as soon as I get out of the city... and before that too.

Lots of chickweeds in the herbs.
They make a good cover crop. Instead of pumping the land full of nitrogen and such, organic farmers plant cover crops that generate nutrients for the next season's crops. If you click the photo to enlarge it you can see the hawks circling in the background. They usually congregate and loom somewhere in the sky.

Last year's crops are this year's trellace.
Brad thought about growing a viny crop on these remains, but they are a little weak.

I learned that organic farming is much more than "no pesticides."
I just thought that instead of pesticides they sprayed something natural, like vinegar. While they do occasionally do that, there's way more to organics than I would have guessed. The first trick is to make your crops really strong and healthy. By composting, giving the crops special care, and carefully selecting strong seeds, pests are actually held back by the plants' natural defenses. That is, a strong healthy plant with rich composted soil has - for example - strong skin to resist being eaten. This is awesome in my opinion because it means more nutrients (not just less pesticides) in the food - and it's more harmonious. Local knowledge comes into play a lot too. The small farm farmer can get to know his locale and his land very intimately, right down to individual plants. This detailed knowledge gives rise to fantastic strategies and experimentation that could never be worth the time on a huge "conventional" farm. Eliot Coleman's book advocates farms no bigger than 5 acres, which can feed up to 100 people and can be run by a single family.

I love Yogaville, but I still wouldn't recommend it to everyone. However, I would definitely recommend similar intentional communities or outdoors experiences that have strong value systems or lots of caring people. There's literally an entire network of ecovillages and intentional communities, some of which offer internships. There are many different kinds of retreats, hiking, and different sorts of monestaries out there that I would want to visit to get more of a feel for life less on the grid. Then again, just leaving the USA will give this experience if you're careful enough to explore. I learned so much. I'm starting to think about my expenditures, the grub I shovel in my mouth, and how I treat people and think in lots of new ways. I'm talking about changes in axioms and fundamental belief structures. What makes this all possible, in my opinion, is belief in romanticism, which I've recently learned a new synonym for - magic.

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