kaleidoscope 49 day retreat

Coming Home to the Spiritual Heart

How to Come Out of Retreat

By Natasha Friedman

Everything is a kaleidoscope of color and sound as we drive down the highway to Mazunte. I am squished into the front seat of a taxi with a girl I have lived in the same building with for the past six weeks but have not yet spoken to. Two more retreaters and most of our material possessions are in the back seat.

No one says anything for most of the 45-minute trip. I remember all the shapes and sounds appearing in my awareness in hallucinatory brightness. I feel simultaneously overwhelmed and strangely calm.

We pull up in front of the Hridaya Yoga Center, unload our bags, and then that’s it, we’re there, it’s over. I greet a few people, feeling like I just saw them yesterday. It’s only their surprised reactions that remind me I haven’t spoken to them—or to anyone—for 49 days.

After so much time in solitude, basic human actions somehow become almost impossible. Talking makes me weak and dizzy. Looking at a computer screen makes me nauseous. When I call my parents, it is like talking to them for the first time. And, when I start to lose the intensity of presence that had become my normal state, I feel like my heart is breaking.

Questions wouldn’t stop throughout the first sleepless night after the retreat: Who am I? What is this personality? How do I pick up my life after all this? Where am I supposed to go and what am I supposed to do now?

The retreat is over, but the work is just beginning.

For some of us, going into retreat is a challenge. The silence, long hours of meditation, and lack of external stimuli can be a sharp break from our normal experience. Detaching from daily patterns can leave us feeling anxious or lost in space.

For other people—or just at other times—the hard part is actually coming out of retreat.

We spend ten days (or however long) going into high concentration and expansion. We become sensitive to subtle realities, feeling energies and sensations too refined for our normal perception. We come into contact with the deepest dimension of our being.

Even if it’s a difficult retreat, with a lot of struggle and purifications, these challenges come because the retreat gives us the space to contain them. We might not realize how far we’ve come until the final bell rings and everyone gathers for the sharing.

I always feel like a spell is breaking as soon as people start talking again. The world of silence is so intense, so profound, so full of magic and mysteries. There is such clarity and brightness. When the mind is deep in silence, every detail of the world around has a ring of truth.

Then, words come again, and with them stories, divisions, projections, patterns, limitations… All the conditions we are usually enslaved by. The Garden of Eden starts to fade away.

Of course, the ultimate goal is not to be a hermit in perpetual mauna. (It’s not my goal, at least.) But, so long as we’re not stabilized enough in the Self to maintain the stillness of retreat while engaged with the world, it can be a harsh transition back to everyday reality.

 

silence meditation

Go Slowly and Accept Whatever Comes

How long does it take to integrate after a retreat?

There’s no right answer. Even after a short retreat, we might feel echoes for weeks or months. Speaking generally, the deeper the experience, the longer it will take to harmonize it with everyday life.

And in the meantime, be prepared for anything.

After a retreat, we might feel totally blissed out. We might feel calm, relaxed, or refreshed. We might feel inspired and burning to share what we’ve learned with everyone we know. We might feel depressed. We might feel confused, like nothing makes sense, like our entire lives are being lived in someone else’s shoes and don’t fit right anymore.

I want to emphasize: all of these feelings are okay.

What’s important is to honor the process and give space to whatever arises.

When I came out of the 49-Day Prathyabhijna Retreat earlier this year, I felt extremely lost. I didn’t know who I was within this manifestation. I had gone through a major transformation that hadn’t yet stabilized, to the point where I didn’t want any contact with my life from before the retreat.

I asked Sahajananda what to do, and whether this was normal. His first response: “What is normal after an experience like this?”

Which brings me to my second point: integration might look very different from what we think.
I think a lot of us go into retreats or spiritual practices with the idea that we will get something out of it—knowledge or healing or whatever—and then when we go back to normal life, this will just be added onto what we already have.

In reality, we are putting our whole being into a blender. What comes out will be something entirely new. That’s the real meaning of transformation, and it’s what we’re all looking for, even if we don’t realize it or if the idea scares us.

So, again, my best advice is to give space to these changes. It is better not to be afraid to let go of our notions of what we are and what our place in the world is. We can allow ourselves to explore new possibilities. Maybe it is scary, but this uncertainty is actually a form of openness, a sign that we’ve made real progress and are at a point of great opportunity.

It’s like when we get hit by a wave at the beach. For a few seconds, we’re spinning in every direction at once and can’t tell up from down. If we simply hold our breath, stay calm, and relax, soon enough the water will settle and we’ll find our feet on dry land. We can take our time going through this. There’s no rush to dive back into our responsibilities or busy social lives. We can benefit from staying close to the retreat center, where support and inspiration from other practitioners is available.

Share with Others, but Keep Your Sacred Space

It’s very beautiful to stay in touch with other retreat participants.

Often, when going back into the world it can be hard to find people to open up to about deep spiritual experiences. Our friends and family might want to support us, but unless they are on a spiritual path themselves, they probably won’t be able to understand what we’re going through. Sharing our innermost feelings with them might just create more confusion and feelings of disconnectedness.

People going through the same process, however, are an invaluable support network. They can help us put our transformation in perspective and make sense of whatever is arising. If others are on the same wavelength and receptive, just talking can be an integration process, bringing deeper realizations up to the level of the conscious mind.

That said, there is no pressure to share everything. A retreat is a step into the realm of the sacred, into the ineffable. There may be experiences that are best kept in intimacy with the Spiritual Heart.

So, we can give ourselves as much space as we need.

Following a retreat, art is a useful means of expression. It’s a great time for journaling, painting, writing poetry, playing devotional music, or following whatever creative path calls. I’ve often found that the days after a retreat are a time of peak creativity. New songs and poems come naturally, flowing from Stillness.

These songs are like the flowering of seeds that germinated in my heart during the retreat. Later on, they become a precious window into the world of the retreat, and they can bring others to the same depth of experience.

Keep up the Practice

This is probably the most important thing we can do!

Sahajananda recommends meditating for at least one hour every day to maintain a high level of consciousness after a retreat. We need to touch that depth again and again, especially if we’re living somewhere surrounded by mainstream Western values that run contrary to the spiritual attitudes we try to cultivate.

In the days following a retreat, I find it helpful to stay in “half retreat,” practicing for four or five hours a day and keeping mauna until noon. After a period of such intensive focus, sitting down to meditate might be the last thing you want to do, but it’s essential for stabilizing the experience.

Sahaja always emphasizes continuity. It’s not enough just to have peak experiences, we have to raise our base level of awareness.

During a retreat, this continuity means trying to keep a meditative state even outside of formal practice. We walk with awareness, eat with awareness, contemplate nature, and stay in the Heart, no matter where we are.

In daily life, it’s about living the teachings. It’s what Padmasambhava, the master who brought Buddhism to Tibet, meant when he said, “Descend with the view while ascending with the conduct.”

We bring our insights, the wisdom that comes from contact with reality, back into our daily lives. And in our daily lives, through constant remembrance of the Heart and our efforts to live in integrity with this vision, we rise to the level of our highest practice.

Which is more “real,” daily life or time in retreat? Do we come home when we close our eyes in meditation or when we go back to our personalities?

I could say both or neither. Our true home is the Spiritual Heart. When we live from there, we are at home no matter what happens outside.

Spiritual Heart

Natasha is a Hridaya Yoga student. You can read her post about maintaining your spiritual practice while traveling here and her post about signs that you are going deeper in meditation here.

4 Signs Your Spiritual Practice Is Going Deep Even When You Feel Stuck

By Natasha Friedman
Are you and your spiritual practice going through a rough time? Do you feel like you’ve stopped progressing, or you’re even backsliding? The goal seems impossibly far away and your current reality is too messed up to live with?
It happens to every practitioner sooner or later. The bad news is that there’s really no way to shake yourself out of it.
The good news: it’s not such a bad thing.
Although you might feel like your meditation practice has crashed and burned, facing a lot of inner obstacles can actually be a sign of deep transformation. If you’re encountering any of these four challenges, it just might mean you’re making real progress.

1. You feel frustrated

Sahajananda once said that what appears to the ego-bound person as frustration is longing to the mystic.

Often, we take frustration as a sign of failure. We decide that we’re bad at meditation, we’re not cut out for spiritual practice, something’s gone wrong, or we’ve hit a wall that we can’t go past.

The next time you feel frustrated with your meditation, go deeper into this feeling and see what it’s actually pointing towards.

A sense of helplessness, incompleteness. A burning desire for something just beyond your reach. A conviction that none of your personal efforts are adequate.

This is nothing other than a longing for the Divine.

Sooner or later, the spiritual path will take you beyond where “you” can go by your own effort, past what an individual can accomplish within the domain of relativity. This is the point of real surrender.

As Sahaja went on to say, on this path there’s no wall that doesn’t have a door.

So when you’re frustrated, stay with it! Drop the stories about what you can and can’t do, and let the intensity of emotion open into desire for union with the Beloved.

2. You notice everything, especially what isn’t so flattering

After a recent retreat, I suddenly noticed I had a lot of negativities.

I was snappy and impatient. I was resentful, jealous of others, and convinced of my own inadequacy. I got angry at my partner over trivial things, and easily fell into depression when something didn’t go right.

I felt like a total fraud. What was I doing, living at a spiritual center and practicing so intensely, and yet acting like a selfish idiot most of the time? Where did all my progress go?

What I actually was (and am) is human.

None of these flaws are anything new. When I look closer, all these behaviors are all too familiar. I just didn’t have the awareness to perceive them, or the maturity to work with them.

Eventually, nothing can be swept under the rug. At certain times, when you don’t have enough perspective to work with them, difficult emotions and negativities might be suppressed. You can make progress upwards—developing your best qualities and reaching higher states of consciousness—without really confronting the lower levels of the personality.

Once you’ve expanded to a certain level, you have enough awareness to give space to your negative tendencies, to witness them without following or identifying with them. It’s at this point that you can look at yourself with radical honesty and say, “Wow, there’s a lot of anger here.”

This is a huge step up from either flying into a rage or thinking, “Oh no, I’m an angry person and I shouldn’t feel like this.”

Now, you can really start working with the parts of yourself you aren’t comfortable with. The fact that you can see them more clearly is a sign that you’re ready.

3. Nothing makes sense

Do you feel the same but everything else in the world is just a bit off?
Or like it’s all completely wrong?

Don’t worry, it’s a good sign.

The world most of us live in is wrong. It’s a world of duality, separation, and concealment, where we are out of touch with the true nature of our existence. To put it less gently, it’s a world of suffering.

The first Noble Truth of Buddhism, the foundation of Buddhist practice, is simply dukkha, the truth of suffering.

The difference between a spiritual aspirant and an “ordinary” person is realizing this truth, seeing samsara for what it is. With this vision comes the impulse to escape from the cycle of suffering and connect with Reality.

Before we realize it, we look for satisfaction within the illusion, not understanding that the only lasting happiness comes from going beyond it. We can call this liberation, Self-realization, realizing the Spiritual Heart, enlightenment, salvation, or any number of other terms.

But, going back to why you feel weird after practicing yoga for a while.
Until your spiritual practice reaches a certain depth, you are still basically synchronized with the material world. You want more or less what the people around you want, and the structures of  daily life seem more or less normal.

Once you start approaching Truth, you might notice that most of these structures are built on illusion. Whether in a subtle or obvious way, they maintain the paradigms of struggle, separation, and individuality.

So, don’t be surprised or worried if you find yourself questioning what you always believed in.

At this point, it’s also important to remember that everyone is at a different place in their spiritual evolution. What seems obvious to you now is simply not visible to people who aren’t at the same stage. And that’s okay: whatever they’re doing is exactly what they’re supposed to be doing right now.

Maybe you want to grab your friends and coworkers, shake them, and shout in their faces, “Don’t you realize our essential nature is Love?” It’s very tempting, but it’s unlikely to do much good.

Instead, just be compassionate to them as they are. Love them without expecting them to change. Love the whole world and work to make it better without expecting anything from it. (Easier said than done, I know.)

And be compassionate to yourself, to the seed of wisdom that is cracking open inside your heart. Don’t try to force yourself back into a life that no longer fits. Keep asking questions, and whenever you feel like you just don’t understand anything, look within. There is a quiet place inside you where all the answers are waiting.

4. Your practice is “just not like it used to be”

A meditation practice is always changing and evolving. Sometimes it’s easy to slip effortlessly into a deep state. It’s all bliss, and you can’t imagine it will ever be any other way.

Sometimes, it’s not like that at all. There is struggle and frustration, the mind goes crazy, thoughts come too fast and loud. Or, your motivation is gone—there’s no inspiration, no energy, no spanda.

A result-oriented mind, caught in a sense of doership, naturally thinks that a “good” meditation is a success and a “bad” meditation is a failure.

The trick is to move above this attachment to success. Part of spiritual maturity is detaching from the fruits of your own practice. It means both accepting that, ultimately, you are not responsible for your experience in meditation—you simply create the best possible conditions for the Truth to reveal itself—and letting go of the need to feel good during your practice.

Without this maturity, meditation becomes just a way to “get high.”

There’s a psalm in the Jewish tradition that includes the line: “To declare Thy loving-kindness (chasdecha) in the morning and Thy faithfulness (emuna) in the evening.”
You can interpret this as referring  to these two poles of spiritual practice. In the “morning,” when you are open and everything comes easily, your work is to open to this Grace, to rejoice and be grateful for what you are receiving. In the “evening,” when the light has disappeared and you can’t even feel what you’re moving towards, it’s the time for faith.

This is the real test of your spiritual practice: not how high you can get when everything is easy, but how much your realizations can sustain you even when you’re cut off from the direct experience. Your simple persistence shows your authenticity, and how deep your practice has gone.

So just keep going. Consecrate your meditations, do your best effort to create the right conditions, and then let go. When your meditation is over, give thanks for your practice and dedicate it to the benefit of all beings—no matter how you felt during it.

Finally, remember that the night is darkest right before dawn. If you feel stalled out, confused, or like everything is falling apart, remember it won’t be like this forever. A new level of realization might be just around the corner.
 
 
Natasha is a Hridaya Yoga student. You can read her post about maintaining your spiritual practice while traveling here.

Unending Pilgrimage

The Unending Pilgrimage

How to Maintain Your Spiritual Practice While Traveling, and Turn Traveling into a Spiritual Practice

By Natasha Friedman

Travel and spirituality have long gone hand in hand. Pilgrimage is a part of almost every tradition, from medieval Europeans walking to Jerusalem to millions of Hindus gathering at the Ganges for the Kumbh Mela.

Often, spirituality is spoken about in the language of travel: your “spiritual journey” or “path.” The Sanskrit word samsara, meaning cyclic existence within an illusory world of duality, can be literally translated as “wandering.”

For many people in my generation, this wandering is very literal. We’re backpackers, nomads, global citizens. Sometimes this life can feel like an unending pilgrimage to an unknown destination.

But constant motion doesn’t have to be a detour from the spiritual path. On the contrary, the outer journey can be an amazing support for the inner voyage, if you can maintain your practice and awareness throughout.

Developing a Spiritual Practice That You Can Take Anywhere

Consistency is essential for any spiritual practice. Though it might be much harder while traveling, in periods of instability it’s especially important to maintain a regular practice. Best of all is to choose something to do every day, a practice you can commit to no matter what.

When I am traveling, this practice becomes my home base. It might be my only point of stability and familiarity.

yoga-travel

So how do you pick a practice to take on the road with you?

First, you will want something you can do anywhere, in case you get stuck at an airport or on a 12-hour bus ride. This rules out most Hatha Yoga practices, for obvious reasons (though you can probably get away with uddiyana bandha, nauli kriya, or pranayama).

That said, long hours of travel take their toll on the body. For this reason alone, I try to squeeze in as much asana practice as I can while on the road.

Meditation, on the other hand, can happen anywhere and at any time.

If you’re used to meditating in a quiet, peaceful corner of your bedroom, it can be a challenge to go into high concentration and relaxation while bumping around on a bus or squeezed into an airplane seat with crying babies on both sides. I’m not going to tell you that these are optimum
conditions for reaching deep states, but I do have a few pointers for making the most out of it.

  1. Use earplugs.
  2. Let go of your expectations. Maybe you won’t feel like you go as deep as in a “normal” meditation, but it’s a different type of work: learning to surrender and be present under any conditions. Learning to let noise and sensations, frustration and chaos, pass through your awareness without reacting.When you can remain calm and witness intense external stimuli, it’s much easier to deal with the turbulence of your own mind.Anyway, if you think about it, how often do you really have “perfect” conditions for meditation? Even if everything is supportive externally, your mind can still go wild. It’s not about having the perfect setting, but what you do with it.
  3. Allow sounds and feelings to arise without resistance. In a more peaceful setting, you might be able to go into laser focus and completely zone out any distractions. But, when meditating somewhere loud and chaotic, that forceful attitude is likely to result in frustration.Instead, simply stay neutral. Draw all these perceptions into the Heart and remain a witness to all of them.
  4. Make use of any opportunity to practice. If you’re waiting for a train, do some walking meditation to make up for long hours of sitting. If you’re stuck in a passport line with a hundred other tired, frustrated people, do tonglen and absorb all their suffering.

Making Travel Itself a Spiritual Practice

By now, maybe you’ve guessed where I’m going with this.

Taking your on-the-road spiritual practice to the next level means that beyond trying to squeeze your practice into your traveling, traveling itself becomes a practice.

Travel can teach you so much about yourself. Taking you outside of your normal patterns of behavior, away from so many of the external factors that you usually use to define yourself, it’s an opening for something new to blossom. Exploring the world outside of your normal conditions allows you a glimpse beyond the level of conditions.

It teaches humbleness. Maybe at home you’re smart and successful, but here you are struggling to order in a restaurant, getting ripped off by taxi drivers, and washing your underwear in hostel sinks for weeks on end. At a certain point, the default is just to smile and move on.

Travel is often a crash course in non-attachment. First, non-attachment to belongings, as stuff inevitably gets lost, stolen, or simply left behind to make room in a loaded backpack. No matter how much you think you can’t live without something, it usually turns out that you do just fine without it.

You also develop non-attachment to plans, either when things go wrong or very right, like when you make some great new friends the night before leaving for Mexico City and decide to go with them to Guatemala instead.

There’s nothing like getting hopelessly lost in a foreign city where you don’t speak the language to teach you how to stay calm and positive in a difficult situation. Facing challenges like this brings a special kind of trust, a surrender to whatever comes, and the courage to step into the unknown.

Odd as it sounds, I learned how to come home by being homeless.

I love traveling. It’s been several years since I’ve had a good answer when people ask me “Where do you live?,” and I like it that way.

Yet sometimes, especially during silent retreats or towards the end of a long journey—like when I see the sun rising through the windows of an overnight bus—I am hit in the gut with an intense homesickness. Sometimes it’s nostalgia for my childhood home or places I used to know in Brooklyn, my last permanent address. Sometimes I don’t even know what the longing is for.

It was only in my last Hridaya Retreat that I began to understand what these waves of homesickness were about.

One of the strongest attachments human beings have is to “home.” “I’m American.” “I’m from So-and-so.” “I live here, it’s where I belong.”

From the perspective of Advaita, none of these identifications with places is real. On the ultimate level, I am not American. I was not born anywhere and I don’t come from anywhere. Wherever I think that I live is simply the form that is arising in my awareness at that moment.

Where is home, when you are pure Consciousness on a voyage through this world of appearances? Where is home, when your soul is yearning to break free of all attachments and fly into the source? Why do you feel such a need to have a place to call your own, when your nature is freedom beyond time and space?

A Sufi mystic once said that every desire is a restless movement in search of God. When you go deep enough into any desire, you find a longing for union with the Ultimate, a calling to dissolve into the essence of Life.

To illustrate, Sigmund Freud claimed that all human behavior was rooted in two desires: the sex drive and the death drive. However, with an understanding of the spiritual dimension, both of these impulses are clearly filters for the fundamental longing that all sentient beings have to return to our True Nature.

Sex is union, the illusion of separateness disappearing, which is the ultimate bliss. According to Abhinavagupta, the great master of non-dual Kashmir Shaivism, it is one of two experiences in life that is most similar to the mystical experience. The desire for sex is so intense because it gives a taste of Reality.

The death wish is actually a desire for the death of the ego. This limited form really is self-destructive in the sense that its final goal is to merge into limitlessness.

This bittersweet homesickness I feel—and that I suspect most nomads run into—is also a hidden longing for the Divine.

When I feel this strange nostalgia on the road, this ache for something I don’t really miss or can’t even put my finger on, it’s really a longing to be settled in the Heart. It’s a longing for the magic and beauty of a world without filters, stories, and illusions, for the infinity that my limited consciousness emerged from. It’s an intuition of Truth.

In Conclusion…

Long-term travel is not always easy. It challenges you on every level of your being, pushing you to go beyond your limits and always open more to the beauty and wildness of the vast world you live in.

Sometimes I wonder if my wanderlust is just a distraction. There’s a part of me that says if I were really serious about my spiritual aspiration, I would settle down in one place and just meditate as much as I can, without all the trouble of constantly moving. After all, what is there to see in the world that can’t be found inside? What’s the point of more sightseeing in samsara?

I don’t believe so much in this voice—at least not now. There is, of course, a risk in following the urge to wander. It’s easy to get lost in the adventure, thinking that happiness lies in the next stop on the itinerary.
open-road-travel
However, the calling is there, and I believe it’s there for a reason. The open road has lessons for you. There is something the soul needs to experience in each place you visit, karmic connections that draw you to a place or a person you need to meet, for whatever purpose above your limited human capacity to understand.

The more you wander with awareness, the more you bring practice along on your travels and turn your traveling into a practice, one thing becomes more clear. Wherever you go, you are there. The Self is there. Consciousness is there, it is everywhere, and you can never go outside of it.
   
Natasha is a Hridaya Yoga student. You can read her post about following your spiritual aspiration here.

Who am I?

The Ups and Downs of Following Your Spiritual Aspiration

By Natasha Friedman

The Yearning of Spiritual Aspiration

A student goes to his teacher in ancient India. He asks, “When will I reach enlightenment?”
The teacher leads him to a river, takes him out in a rowboat, and asks him to jump overboard. When he does, the teacher thrusts the student’s head under the water and holds him down. When he is choking, about to pass out, the teacher lets him up.
The teacher asks, “What did you feel when you were underwater?”
“Desperation. An agonizing desire for air. Every particle of my being crying out to breathe.”
The teacher says, “When you want the truth as much as you wanted to breathe, that’s when you will get it.”

Do We Really Want to Know the Truth?

For many of us with spiritual aspiration, we actually don’t want the “truth”—at least, not yet. We want to want it. Maybe we want to want it so badly we feel like we could die from wanting. But we don’t die, we can’t die into it… yet. There is still a part of us that thinks happiness lies just around the next turn of the wheel. Maybe it will come from the next retreat, from finding the right guru, living in just the right ashram, from this or that meditation technique, from learning all the secret mantras and mudras.

And so the wheel turns.

I don’t know why I’m on the spiritual path. If you ask me directly, I would probably give you a superficial answer. But, when I look a little deeper into myself I find only bewilderment, a million ideas and impulses and in the center, this not-knowing. Void. Awe.

Beginning the Journey


It started out simple enough. I was 24, lost and alone in my “starving artist” identity bubble, digging myself into a hole searching for something. Finally, that hole went so deep that I popped out the other side. I found myself at a Buddhist center and suddenly I was there every day, meditating.

The thing is, the more answers you look for, the more questions you get. This rabbit hole goes all the way down. Following one clue after another into this ever-expanding labyrinth of chakras and nadis, hidden worlds, laws of karma, and flavors of emptiness, bodhicitta, Shiva and Shakti and Christ-consciousness, and experiences further and further from what your rational mind can understand. Then, at a certain point, you look at all the pieces in your hand and start to wonder what puzzle this is exactly. You realize this turn your life took is part of something so much more vast and unfathomable than you could have imagined.

And then you realize others feel the same. You’re looking for the same thing that people have been looking for since early human existence. It’s the same thing that deep down, everyone, every being on this planet, is seeking. The only difference is you have this itch of aspiration, this crazy drive to know. You won’t be content with anything less than the direct experience, nothing less than union with this something that is beyond everything.

The Courage to Seek

Many people think that spiritual life is some sort of escape, like you can’t deal with the “real world.” I feel that couldn’t be farther from reality. It takes courage to let go of everything you trusted in the world you came from, to stop believing what you’ve always been told and what your mind tries to tell you.

It takes courage to go head-on with your demons. It takes courage to see how high you can fly. It takes courage to come face to face with yourself.

It takes courage to offer it all into the divine fire.

I’ve been on the road for almost a year now. California, Hawaii, Mexico, Israel… The scenery changes but that something in the corner of my eye is always there. I don’t miss having a home or “normal life” or anything, but I feel a fire in my heart, stronger every day. A longing that is so painful and so blissful at the same time.

Waking Up

Finally, I arrive at Hridaya. Again, something cracks open and the light comes in. I do one 10-day Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreat and go back the next month for the 17-day. It is so sweet, all those mornings when I wake up in the dark and sit alone until the sun peeks over the horizon. Eagles floating up from the beach in the afternoon. Staring at patterns in the bark of a neem tree. Catching my breath at the beauty of every moment, too precious even to hold onto.

In the meditations, I feel myself falling asleep to the outside world. Inside, something is waking up. I am curled up in the womb of the universe and I know nothing, I am nothing, there is nothing to know.

Sahajananda reads poems by Rumi and Hafiz before meditation sessions. There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled. There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled. You feel it, don’t you? Every night he answers questions that students leave on slips of paper in a glass cup by the altar. One night, someone writes that she is depressed and suicidal. She is alienated from her family and all her friends are drifting away. She says she has lost all her reference points.

“This is a powerful time for you,” he answers. “You can learn from it. If a reference point can be lost, that means it isn’t the ultimate reference point.”

A Magnet in the Heart

There are times when it all snaps into focus, like for the blink of an eye I can almost see the whole picture but it’s just out of reach. I want to cry and I can’t tell if it’s from joy or heartbreak. Where are my reference points? Who put this magnet in my heart that draws me deeper and deeper into the unknown? What set my life to curve around the divine, like the spirals of a plant or a galaxy reaching for the Beloved?

I pray to God to take everything from me so I can be naked and alone with the truth. Take my mind, take my life. Make me a leaf in Your wind. Make me a finger in Your hand to spread Your blessings. Oh Beloved, take away what I want, take away what I do, take away what I need, take away everything that takes me from you…

At the same time my deep, self-preserving ego prays for the opposite. Lord, keep me safe. Lord, give me long life in this body. Lord, give me someone who loves me. Give me money and sex. Make things how I like them.

And the wheel turns.

Maybe it’s all very simple. Whatever you want, God wants to give you. If you only want God, if that’s really all you want with every last drop of your being, that’s what you will get.

I keep praying. I keep meditating, practicing yoga and doing retreats. I study. I do tapas. And I listen for that tiny, precious voice that says, “Listen, child, come closer, let me tell you a secret…”

Natasha is a Hridaya Yoga student. Her spiritual aspiration is guiding her to participate in the 2017 49-Day Prathyabhijna Retreat.