Five years ago, was the first time I was in the presence of Jaggi Vasudev Sadhguru, a spiritual master, yogi, mystic, humanitarian, visionary and founder of the Isha Yoga Foundation, at one of his speaking engagements in Lebanon.After this first encounter, my energies were touched to their core – I started meditating and sought to enlighten myself through the ancient science of yoga.
That same year, I attended my first yoga program, Inner Engineering, at the Isha Yoga Center in Lebanon, and over the next two years I completed all the other ones (threeto seven-day programs). I spent the following years doing my daily practices and meditations as often as I could. Although I experienced my yoga practices as a support system that helped me to live well in full awareness of and gratitude for the present moment, aligning my mental, physical, emotional and inner energies, I wanted more. I had reconnected with my inner being, with the breath that infused life within me and I sought to explore the deeper realms of my life. It was time for the Samyama Program, the Silence Program in India given by Sadhguru.
After two months of intense preparation and a vegan diet, the day of my trip to India was finally upon me. As I boarded the plane, leaving Beirut and all its madness behind, I felt stir within me the words a yogi friend had uttered a few days before: “Let the silent revolution of self-realization begin, have a nice last evening before your life changes forever.” And I remembered my answer: “I am ready for my life to change forever.” Had I answered hastily? What did my answer mean? I brushed the thought aside as I settled in my seat on the plane and began to daydream of the soon to be adventures.
I landed at the Coimbatore airport and took a taxi toward the Isha Yoga Foundation Ashram at the Vellangiri foothills. As I watched my first sunrise in India my body, weary from the long trip, sought the sun’s timid rays. It was the month of February and the heat during the early morning hours was bearable. We left the town and drove toward the natural reserve where the Ashram is located.
Entering into the Ashram at dawn felt like I was coming back to a place my spirit had always known. We were embraced by the Vellangiri mountain range as the Ashram was awakening to the first morning light. The taxi drove up a rock paved road surrounded by trees, reached another gravel road and stopped at the entrance of a small building, its doorway bursting with colors from the blooming trees nearby. I took off my shoes walked into the reception area and admired the open courtyard with a garden in the middle.
A volunteer checked my name on his reservation list and gave me my key. My room was in the adjacent two-story building, one of many housing facilities at the Ashram, with open-air stairs and a bigger courtyard connected to the same garden. It was spacious and very comfortable. I had one week to settle into the rhythm of life here before I would leave the haven of this room and move to the Adi Yogi hall with 700 others to start the Silence Program.
The highlight of my first week here was the Mahashivarathri. I had arrived on the last two days of the Yaksha, which is a 7-day festival of classical Indian music and dance, amidst the sacred space of the ashram. The last night of the Yaksha culminated with the Mahashivarathri celebrations. It is one of the biggest and most significant amongst the sacred festival nights of India. It takes place on the darkest night of the year or the longest night of the year and celebrates the grace of Shiva who is considered the Adi Yogi or the First Guru. The unique planetary positions on this night initiate an upsurge of energy in the human system. One can reap immense benefits by staying awake and keeping the spine erect.
The week went by fast. I woke up early, did my practices, went to the lunch hour before 12 p.m., enjoying sitting cross legged on the floor and relishing the freedom of eating vegetarian meals with my fingers. The rest of the day was spent walking around the Ashram, sitting in its beautiful gardens admiring the breathtaking Vellangiri mountains, visiting the wellness center, and meditating in powerful and subtle energy centers. I met many people: swamis (a Sanskrit word that means one who knows, who is master of himself) that had made the Ashram their HOME and worked there teaching in the school or in the various yoga programs, others that were passing through and had decided to stay for a while and volunteer, teachers, visitors like myself that had come to attend a program and many others. In the evening, I would take my meal before 8 p.m. and prepare for the night.
The day of the silence program had finally arrived. I did not sleep well that night, I was anxious and had started running a low-grade fever. Early in the morning, I left my suitcase in a storage room, put what I would need in a small bag and walked toward the Adi Yogi hall in my white kurta top and pants. I registered, handed over my phone, my watch and other valuables for safe storage, filled out my health form which was approved by a doctor, picked up my number 135 which would be my identity for the next week, deposited my belongings in the baggage area which I would have access to and entered the hall to pick my mattress location among 700 others.
"I registered, handed over my phone, my watch and other valuables for safe storage, filled out my health form which was approved by a doctor, picked up my number 135 which would be my identity for the next week"
The Samyama program is an eight-day residential program conducted by Sadhguru. The Samyama meditations are described as providing the experiential possibility to free one from the bonds of Karma and purify the body and mind to receive higher levels of energy. It presents the potential for heightened levels of consciousness and deep states of meditation in the presence of a living master. For seekers with great longing, Samyama is a possibility for true transformation, which has never in spiritual history been given to so many people at one time.
The rules were simple. There would be no communication of any kind with anyone, including Sadhguru, the teachers and volunteers, either through speech, looks, smiles, eye contacts, gestures or notes. We were asked to bring all necessary medication in case we became sick because we would not be able communicate and were responsible for our own wellbeing. If silence was broken in any way, we would be asked to leave the program. We would be given breaks throughout the day and could leave the hall only to go to directly adjacent premises for eating, showering and using the restroom facilities.
The first day and the rest of the week was spent in intense guided meditations, our eyes open only during the breaks and when we were asked to watch videos explaining the meditation processes. We were woken up every morning at 4:30 a.m. I do not know at what time our days would end because I had no concept of time but I guessed that it was around 10 p.m.
My nervousness eased on the second day after I realized that I was meditating with ease and after having slept well all through the night. I was fascinated at how easy it was to share the night and the same space with 700 others. I could hear people cough, breathe, snore and sneeze at night but I felt that I was in a cocoon, that we were all one. By the second day, I had completely withdrawn into myself but I was still attached to my identity and I could feel my ego resisting. I walked around during the breaks wondering if I was imagining it all, questioning where my reality ends and my illusions begin.
"I could hear people cough, breathe, snore and sneeze at night but I felt that I was in a cocoon, that we were all one"
I could see people walk around me, all in white, engrossed in their world, with different schedules depending on how they chose to make use of their breaks. I realized that even when humans were left with only the most basic of choices, they still managed to organize their time in different ways. During the several breaks we were given, I organized my schedule in order to eat, rest, shower, do some hatha yoga and get some fresh air and sun. The mind has a need to plan and I was grateful to it in this situation. Each free minute became precious and put to good use taking care of myself in order to make it through the rest of the days. I kept track of time by counting the nights and kept on reminding myself of the number of days remaining.
On the third day, my mind started playing tricks on me, there were moments in which I felt that I would be in this hall forever, thinking I had lost my previous life and all my loved ones, that my old self had never really existed or had died, that this was my only reality. I would feel anxious for a short period. I was afraid of change, even for the better, I wanted to stay attached to what I could identify with. However, the time spent in breathing awareness and meditations accompanied by live music was so relaxing and soothing that all my fears quickly dissipated. During the most intense sessions, I cried and I felt myself surrender, letting go of all attachments, my ego was stripped naked of all pretenses and I was reunited with the source of creation. I experienced that I was not the body and not the mind, that my breath was my connection to the infinite and immortal source of life within me.
The rest of the days passed quickly, and with each day I felt myself shedding all the unnecessary baggage I had been lugging around for decades and maybe lifetimes. I became my main focus – it was all about the life within me, had always been and always would be. It was such a relief to love and care for me without guilt, I had finally come HOME.
On the last day of the program, I left the hall and returned to my room. I met the woman that had been sleeping on the mattress to my right over the past week. We broke our silence together and shared our experiences. She was Indian and a published writer. As we took a walk together, it started to rain and we both ran. In that moment, I was the lightest, happiest and most carefree I had ever been so far in my life. It is the memory of this feeling, if only for a fleeting moment, that keeps the flame burning within me. It is the realization that we are the masters of our own happiness and we complete ourselves from within that has transformed my life forever. I was ready for my life to change and it has. Nothing around me has changed but my awareness of life has and even in my saddest moments, if I close my eyes and seek, there is peace within me.