“Joy, contentment, peace, bliss, compassion, and gratitude – every moment I have spent here is filled with them. The ashram is my very own Shangri-La.”

The above are the words of a sadhak (spiritual seeker) and devotee, who relished the chance ‘Deepen Your Practice’ gave her, to visit the ashram.

The perfect new year’s gift, ‘Deepen Your Practice’, a meditation retreat, allowed devotees to the ashram for a minimum period of 10 days and a maximum of two months. 

Were you a sadhak looking to deepen your practice during the golden work-from-home era? Or
Were you perhaps a beginner looking to experience the basics of meditation? Or
Were you a sincere practitioner wanting some silence and solitude? 

‘Deepen Your Practice’ was the answer, giving an opportunity to bask in the silence and spiritual energy of the holy land. What a boon to experience the ashram when it wasn’t hustling and bustling in its regular festivities and events!

In March of 2020, the entire country went into lockdown. Fear, anxiety, ambiguity, restlessness, and uncertainty – this was what most people suffered through. At a time when devotees of the ashram would usually plan a visit for the glorious Shivratri celebrations or for the annual celebrations of Sri Hari’s consecration, they were forced instead to put on masks, sanitize and isolate. The days of kirtan (devotional songs), fragrant bhasma (holy ash) and Sri Hari magically transforming into Lord Shiva after adorning His magnificent rudraksha beads seemed very far away.

“A year of deep longing and blessed by divine grace, I actually made it within the warm welcoming embrace of the ashram. Can an idol evoke so much devotion? Can one feel guilty of so much happiness? I just couldn’t stop smiling and I couldn’t take my eyes off Sri Hari Bhagawan. I soaked in the temple chants and the devotional bhajans every day.”

The words of another sadhak who felt like she had truly understood the essence of “overflowing with gratefulness” when she set foot on the ashram land after long months. “I felt propelled to do the gratitude goal in the Black Lotus app! It was so humbling.”

“Words became redundant amidst the beauty all around,” was another sadhak’s deep reflection. “Practicing Yoga especially Surya namaskars with mantras under the warm gaze of the sun was so deeply gratifying and energizing. The food was simple and so delicious, thrown in with delightful surprises sometimes.  Literally relished every bite in my own company. And the luxury of having that undisturbed afternoon siesta!”

Such joy seemed improbable a few months ago when Swamiji announced that for the safety of the residents, the ashram would remain closed through 2020, reopening sometime in 2021. With no vaccine in sight and COVID-19 cases mounting, it seemed the only solution. But for yearning devotees, the turning of two months into a quarter into a painful half a year into a hopeless nine months into nearly a year without seeing their beloved Swamiji was nearly unbearable.

The only thing that remained was faith. Faith to see the pandemic through, faith that it would be alright, faith that it would all figure itself out. And as always, Swamiji’s Love and Compassion abounded, for where there is faith, there is a way. Taking His yearning children under His virtual wing, He announced and conducted three virtual events through the course of the year.

A 15-day virtual self-transformation camp in April 2020 by Sadhvi Vrinda Om and two other events in November and December 2020, saw Swamiji narrating and expounding on three chapters of the eternal Srimad Bhagavad Gita. He also surprised everyone with a mesmerizing and deeply divine Sufi Kirtan on His birthday, whirling and lost to the ecstasy of the Divine, looking every inch a Sufi dervish. His presence and words even through a screen were soothing and healing.

‘Deepen Your Practice’ was the real cherry on top of the virtual cake. The two-month period, from January 15 to March 15, saw many sadhaks come to bask in the pious aura of the Ashram.

Precautions included the comprehensive RT-CPR test to be submitted upon arrival, a three-day isolation period, masks at all times, and social distancing. Sadhaks were also strongly encouraged to maintain silence throughout.

They spent time in contemplation, deepened their meditation and chanting practices, did yoga sessions and immersed themselves in devotional singing. Some chose complete solitude in this quiet and spiritual atmosphere.

The experience of being back on the holy land was nothing short of sheer bliss for these devotees.

A few more testimonials sum up the entire experience:

  • “River Giri provided background music, Anahat Naad, a perfect setting to focus on one’s own self. I experienced silence (except for the chatter inside one’s own head) and spent time in my own company. Many problems just faded by Swamiji’s Divine Grace.”
  • “Every sound, sight, smell, and taste I savoured and took care of. Amongst all this, sadhana becomes so much more meaningful. Devotion seeps in. The stubborn mind, of course, doesn’t let go, but the intensity reduces. You focus a bit more. You begin to sense silence.”
  • “Will this divinity spill over once I get back? Yes. My heart says yes. Slow and steady with time.”

The experience of being back on the holy land was nothing short of sheer bliss for these devotees.

The ashram may remain closed for a while longer, but this opportunity to walk the sands of the divine abode was an enormous blessing. 

“With my heart overflowing with love and gratitude, I bow down at Your lotus feet, Swamiji. Thank You, thank you from the bottom of my heart!”

“It’s possible only by (the) Grace of my Guru.”