I don’t know how it happened, but all of the sudden I’m back in the city full of its noises, lights, tumult, and excitement. In my mind I’m still walking beneath a blanket of stars to a dark meditation hall, watching Swamis dressed in orange quietly manipulate their patterns of breath.
At the Satchidananda Ashram inner peace is laid out before you as a banquet for an honored guest. There is no end to the forms in which it is presented. Hatha Yoga, pranayama, meditation, selfless service in places like a kitchen or farm, immersion in nature, chanting, study of holy texts, and the loving-kindness of friends are all abundantly offered as pathways to the peace within.
And while it had never been so easy to have a joyful open heart, the sweet Swami guiding me through my month made it very clear; nothing outside will change, only your perspective will change.
Being back in Chicago I understand these words more clearly than I did immersed in the sacred space of the ashram. Everything is the same. People are the same. Work is the same. The loud noises that wake me when I’m trying to sleep are the same. Even the thoughts in my mind are the same. But the fog clouding the lens of my heart has been wiped clear so that I can surrender to the infinite love that pervades all things.
Of course while that may sound quite romantic, in practice it isn’t. It means waking up hours before work to sit cross-legged, feet completely asleep, in the silence before dawn. It means doing a half hour of poses and breathing even when my mind is asking me to skip it and take a nap. It means convincing the voice in my head it can have some more chocolate tomorrow, but not today. It means looking at what is happening with my own mind when someone is upsetting me, and letting go of judgement. It means relinquishing the misguided hope that something “out there” will make me happy. (And I still haven’t kicked that coffee habit.)
Each moment is another chance for this practice. What I learned living this way for a month is that it is worth it. There is nothing in this world worth more than inner peace. And, in the words of Eckhart Tolle, “If peace is really what you want, then you will choose peace.”