Hey there! I'm back. Greetings from Gokarna. I've moved on from Goa, going a little bit more south. It is wonderful here, but first I need to retrace my steps into this paradise.
So, I have another ashram experience to share with you. I made my way down south from Vagator with a taxi, since I had no interest in taking 4 local buses and dragging my bags around in the dusty and hot Goan day, still feeling a little sickly. A taxi set me back about 2000 rupees (around 26 euros), and the trip took about 3 hours. And I arrived somewhere what I can only describe as rural paradise beach. The tiny village of Galgibag in South Goa was truly a perfect setting for the ashram: peace and quiet abounding, time and space for reflection and going deeper into your own self.
|Not a whole lot of hustle and bustle going on|
|Our pink ashram|
The schedule was much more "human" than in Santosh Puri, Haridwar: we started the day with breakfast (fruit, yoghurt, white bread and strawberry jam... not my favourite spread, but fruit with nuts and seeds and yoghurt seemed to work for 2 weeks) around 8.15. After that we did something called a walking massage: you coupled up with someone and spent 30 minutes walking on that person. Doesn't maybe sound that nice, but was really really good. The purpose is to align the bones and the muscles and make the body ready for the morning asanas (which I always skipped in favour of having some me-time...). The technique wasn't difficult to learn and by being "massaged" by lots of different people I also learned more about what kind of pressure feels nice and to communicate my preferences to my partner. So, a really wonderful way to start the day <3
After that we had morning asana practice, which went more and more into the teaching aspect as the time went on. The ashram offers teacher training as their main thing and us retreat people were there basically to get a glimpse into their schedule. So, as I wasn't going to become a teacher, I skipped those classes. I did go into the lectures though, morning and evening, which had to do with lots of interesting topics: ayurveda, anatomy, massage, sanskrit, biology about breath and nervous system and some lectures that had more to do with the actual tantra aspect of the place, like the differences between traditional tantra and neotantra, the history of sexual liberation, how our identity is formed etc.
So, I'll skip the linear thing for a bit and go directly to the burning question: what is this tantra then, anyway? Does it have something to do with sex orgies? Well, to be frank, I still don't really know. Well, I do know that neotantric schools are more concentrated on the sexual aspect of it all and developing and refining the energies that arise in that context. But traditional tantra is a very complex system, being the age-old system that it is. What I understood to be Sri Kali's main teachings were basically quite simple, though: Getting more and more in touch with your unconscious self through meditation and asanas and mindfulness about the processes that are going on in our minds. Kind of reconditioning yourself so that you can be liberated from the fears and restrictive mind patterns that might have been an integral part of your identity. Getting into such a relaxed and peaceful state that your unconscious mind can express without the conscious "monkey mind" dictating the terms of your interactions. Constructing a new identity for yourself, which comes truly from your being and not from cultural conditioning or patterns of inherited fear from the previous generations. And expressing that identity in a loving and compassionate way, celebrating and honoring this life and the body that you have.
|Froggie expressing his true self (and making it kinda hard to wash my hands)|
|Shared bathroom, take 2|
|Oncoming traffic on the home path|
Initially I was kind of annoyed that I wasn't getting taught about tantra. Or so I thought. I had expected to be educated more in an intellectual level, but what I got worked on a much deeper level than that. Instead of more information I got more courage for being who I was, for keeping up the work of trying to get more acquainted with myself and expressing myself from a place of love, sincerity and openness. The asanas were more like a 3 hour meditation, during which I got into some really wonderful states of pure being, when my mind is calm and I seem to be melting together with the universe. Being in a meditative state for such a long time really trains you to drop the conscious mind and get to peek behind, making it gradually easier and easier, and although it of course isn't easy all the time and your mind will go jumping through all the hoops it normally does when you're not paying attention ("pay attention to me, oh a bird, hey I want chocolate, this is difficult, what are we having for dinner, why are we doing this" etc, you know the drill), the deep calmness that follows is something truly blissful and wonderful <3
The mindstates after the tantra asana practices were actually something very close to what I've reached in kundalini yoga, which has become my yoga of choice in the last year. Practicing more "sporty" yoga like vinyasa or some forms of hatha has never really let me get into this deep relaxation and letting go, since my mind was always concerned with how the asanas were supposed to be done correctly, what my body alignment was etc. Which is also very good, since it gets you more in touch with what's going on in your body and about being mindful how you align yourself. But, at the end, the mind was still occupied. In the Sri Kali tantric system they initially don't teach how the asanas are supposed to be done. They go into it later on, when people start practicing to teach, but in the first two weeks it's all about getting into the practice of "dropping your conscious mind and being floppy and relaxed". There is no teacher in the front of the class, showing how it's done. They tell us to trust our own bodies and that when we can truly relax into the postures, the body will align itself in a way that suits that exact body. This lets the mind be at peace. And it did work quite nicely. I do think, though, that it takes a little experience as a yogi for this to work, as people can injure themselves if they still are in the "pushing themselves" mindset or competing against themselves or others and they're not told about how to correctly align yourself. But no system is perfect, I guess, and since I don't have to worry about teaching this stuff to others, I could just concentrate on how to make it work for me.
|Every step brings me closer|
Besides the asana practice I also got to grapple with my social insecurities and shyness. I arrived as an "outsider", and although everyone was friendly and nice, I was still the newcomer, the one who was there just for a little while, so I found it hard to connect with people. That was also what bothered me about the long-time students who kind of set the culture of the place: they talked a lot about being loving and kind and warm but at the end of the day I didn't really feel they practiced what they preached. And me, still being insecure about myself quite often, of course thought that "everyone else is having deep conversations and it's just me who's excluded, and why am I not making more of an effort to put myself out there" and all that blah that is not true but my mind is trying its best to make me believe it. But luckily I found a couple of lovely people who I could connect with, and one of them especially, Anna, a truly beautiful and deep girl from Germany, helped me get a different perspective and to see that it wasn't just me who felt like that.
It also bothered me that there was all this talk about intimacy and sharing, but not much of that was being done in practice. Even the couples who were there didn't really show that much affection towards each other in public. And as I've come to learn about myself, I really do need the physical intimacy and human touch, hugging and caressing. But here that wasn't to be had, apparently. So again, a matter of people going on about these things in a purely intellectual level, not really living it. That's how I felt about it anyway.
|Sunrise walk <3|
Of course the beautiful, serene beach, hammocks, really really yummy vegetarian food (I could eat that every day! Oh wait, I just did for 2 weeks...) and the general peace and quiet also helped. I also got my stomach in the best functioning order in a long time, which I was truly grateful for.
After two weeks I was ready to take what I'd learned and dive back into the world outside of Galgibag again. 2 weeks was exactly what I needed, and leaving felt like the right decision. And as luck would have it, Anna was also heading to Gokarna, so we decided to travel together. But, like you might already have guessed, that is a story for another time. For now, I will continue to be floppy and relaxed for a week here in Gokarna, enjoying lemon sodas and basking in the chill vibe. Could I get that tattooed in sanskrit? In a "perfected language", there must be an amazing and concise way to express the innermost meaning of "floppy and relaxed"! Food for thought...
|The grandpa of the family who owned my guesthouse greeted me with a happy wave each time|
|The two places to hit for extra treats like juices and masala chai|
|Creative plumbing. A cookie for guessing which tap turns on the shower!|
|Not so picturesque, all of it. Waste management, rural Goa style.|
|Stumbled on a veggie market, Chaudi|
|"Big town" (tourist hell) Palolem|
|Shopping with the Finnish girls Peppina and Tanja|