For many people starting on their spiritual journey, concepts such as “consciousness” and “mind” often remain unexplored. How can we understand mind or consciousness if we’re functioning within it?
Retreat Guru had the opportunity to visit Swami Lalitananda, President of Yasodhara Ashram, a yoga and retreat center which beautifully lines the shores of our local Kootenay Bay in British Columbia. She shared with us her journey which began with her search for meaning as a young person in a confusing time of her life. In her search for the proverbial ‘something more,’ she began attending yoga classes with someone who had visited Yasodhara Ashram. Her awareness radically shifted when she was asked the first question, “How do you hypnotize yourself?”
“To reflect about what I really know for myself and not just what I was told or conditioned to believe was like opening a door. I liked the approach of questioning rather than telling. I had to find out for myself where I stood especially on the big questions like: What is the purpose of my life? Who do I want to be? Where do I want to go?”
Swami Lalitananda pursued this new direction and met Swami Sivananda Radha, the spiritual teacher and founder of Yasodhara Ashram.
“At my first workshop with Swami Radha, she asked, ‘What is mind? What is consciousness? How has your mind created your life as it is now? Can you learn from the mistakes of others without making the same mistakes yourself? Give three examples.’ And in the middle of the workshop she stopped everyone and demanded that we come back only after we had thought more deeply.”
“It was then that I realized I didn’t really know what mind is or even how it works, and I’m a person who is very interested in psychology! I remember I was up all night watching my mind go around and around, seeking itself. When I finally fell asleep I dreamed of looking at something so closely that I didn’t recognize it. In the dream I was seeing an apple but it was as if I was looking into the cells or life force of that apple. That was 37 years ago but the dream remains a powerful metaphor for me about perception, concentration and the multi-levelled nature of the mind.”
What ultimately drives a person to dive so deeply into self-inquiry? Those who come to Yasodhara Ashram have varying flavors of a story similar to Swami Lalitananda’s. “Some people reach a crisis and know they need help because the perception of their world has been shattered through a loss or an illness or stress from work. Some people are driven by a need for personal growth or a feeling that they’ve reached a plateau and need tools to move forward. Others are seeking healing. I think all these things propel people here.”
Taking a course or retreat helps them go deep. Whether seeking teaching, a quiet place to retreat or a personal/spiritual renewal, at Yasodhara Ashram they are invited into an embodied experience of consciousness that transcends — or perhaps, holistically integrates – intellectual study.
Swami Lalitananda says, “We don’t get in touch with compassion by sitting and writing a doctrine about it. We get in touch with compassion by caring about other people. And when we do that, the power of that intention comes through. Listening to others in a class, being able to explore and express your own concerns—these help open us. And when we chant together, which is something we do every night at satsang, we can offer our caring and send it out from the Temple of Light—our new and beautiful sacred space—to people around the world. And as we chant, we are breathing deeply, making sound, creating vibrations that uplift the mind. Though you are offering to others, the effect also comes back to you. A door can open to what Swami Radha calls ‘the hidden place of the mind,’ which is a very intriguing invitation.”
So. What is mind? What is consciousness?
Swami Lalitananda suggests, “There are many ways to approach these questions: through refection, dreams or devotional practice where the heart speaks. On the mat, in the Temple, through journalling… Keep asking and learning! And whatever insights arise apply them in your life.”
Swami Lalitananda is President of Yasodhara Ashram, a yoga and retreat center situated in Kootenay Bay, British Columbia. You can find more information about the Yasodhara Ashram on their Retreat Guru page or on their website.