What does an Ashram teach?

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The first time I came to this obscure hilltop in Wales it was a month after passing my driving test, but the draw was enough that I braved the motorways and backroads to get here, over safety objections from my brother.

What I initially found was a friendly group of people, very welcoming, and some old pirate singing sea shanti’s on a harmonium. I felt like I’d lived here a long time, or that it’d been built just for me (and I still sometimes suspect that).

The old pirate turned out to be the director and founder of the place - Swami Nishchalananda - and reading some of the leaflets left around I discovered he had spent many years living and traveling in India and met with many guru’s and masters there. So I asked for an interview with him to ask if he could help me find my guru, he kindly agreed saying something along the lines that he would gladly help as it’s basically what he’s for.

So I came back for a longer course on Chakras and Kundalini. It was a couple of weeks I’ll never forget. I spent most of them rowing around tidying up overgrown weeds from a tiny lake with a lovely man from Spain with whom I barely exchanged a word, as we were practicing silence most of the time, and as a result we have become firm friends for life. The rest of the time spent using every trick in the yoga book to wake up, cleanse, and charge up every part of my being. What happened on that course is something profound that I’d not dishonour by putting into words, but it turns out these kind of profound experiences happen here with unpredictable regularity, and it made touring India for a Guru unnecessary.

Since then I’ve come back a good few times. It’s a delight to see a mix of familiar faces and new with each visit. I’ve bought my family and my kids love it and often ask to come along. So I come to the ashram to take a little time out and have some dedicated time for my yoga and meditation practice. But what I  learn is… how to make a dry stone wall, what a chakra is, how to use a belt sander, how to play a harmonium, how to make breakfast for 40 people, the meaning of several Sanskrit words, how to make a film, how to communicate without needing to speak, how to avoid harming wildlife, how to forgive myself and transform various negative tendencies in myself, how to listen, how to use my own judgement, how to work with others, how to sing, the importance of water conservation, how to transform sleeping patterns, about psychic spaces within  me I’d never previously experienced, why people take spiritual names, how people release grief and other pent up emotions, how to have a good laugh, when to get involved or let things be, how to trust, how to use a sat nav and drive on a motorway, and well whatever comes up next...

Swami AtmaGyanam