The Timeline of an Ashram Visit

Somehow through that which is grace I was lucky enough to encounter, however peripherally, an author, a healer, a teacher, a self-described soul self-care coach, a lovely being named Kate Bartolotta. She passed away in April. I imagine if all the hearts she touched joined hands we could reach far enough to hold Mama Earth as lovingly as She held Kate for far too short a time. What I learned from Kate is to always finish something I began writing. Here’s a post I started a while ago. Sending gratitude for her lessons and hopes that Divine Mother hold her children, her family and all that loved her close.
Choose Joy



The Timeline of an Ashram Visit

So you’re in Western Canada for a short time as you continent-hop over this precious Earth and planning to stop at Yasodhara. Here’s what you can expect from a short visit if you’ve lived there for three consecutive years in your 20s. Plus that weird year later when you were incredibly depressed.

Day One: The Arrival

You’ll arrive while daylight still permeates through the trees and buildings. You’ll take your time walking into Mandala House, breathing in that scent of pine and oxygen and Light. Everyone will be thrilled to see you and you them. There’ll be a lot of open arms and smiling faces. You’ll see old friends you weren’t expecting and others you’d been looking forward to catching up with. This is generally an easy-going time.

With a magnetism you’ll never fully understand, you’ll visit the Temple first, then maybe chant in a prayer room and spend some time at the beach. Depending on the length of your stay you’ll unpack your suitcase to various degrees.

As you wander the grounds you’ll get feelings of familiarity and change all at once. You’ll know each tree and shrub. You’ll have waves of memories wash over you of every season that has gone before that matches the season of the current visit. Yet you’ll also be different. Your concerns will have changed. The immediate life situation you’ve left behind will be different. You’ll hold these gently as you re-enter this precious place. You’ll breathe in. You’ll breathe out.

Day Two: The Settling

There will be a few more enthusiastic hellos from people who’d been in town or sick in their rooms the previous day, but generally people won’t be ecstatic to see you. They saw you yesterday. You’ve given them the 50 word spiel, edited and refined more and more with every telling about what you’re up to lately and what you’re doing next. You’re settling into the routine and your familiar face fits in. Haven’t been back in six months? More? It doesn’t matter, in some ways it’s already as if you never left.

You help with dishes and quickly adjust to the slight changes in the kitchen. Plastic containers go there now. Pyrex lids go in the drawer beside the sink.

There will be times, in those snippets of a moment between organized routine, that you’ll wonder just what to do with yourself. You’ll feel a little lost — should you go to the beach? Play guitar in the mat room? You only have half-an-hour. Oh gee, 25 minutes actually. You’ll relax into it. You’ll choose the right thing.

You’ll get these waves of yearning for a feeling that you’re in the midst of feeling. You’ll be in satsang or walking down the gravel path. A sudden peace will seem to enter your very being and you’ll want it closer than that. Closer than right next to every cell. And you’ll realize that it’s impossible to get closer because it’s not next to each cell. It simply is each cell. You’ll keep walking.

Day Three: The Opening

You’ll feel guilty for not waking up for morning practice. It might be chanting in the Temple or morning hatha. You’ll compare the expectations you had about yourself during this visit with the reality of sleeping until breakfast. You’ll forgive yourself. You’ll be gentle, kind and accepting.

Dim light filtering in through the trees will catch you off guard. In a moment of heightened awareness, you’ll feel your entire body relax, your mental acuity focused vividly on the reality around you. You’ll experience moments of blissful presence. Your whole body will vibrate in gratitude. It will be as if the veil is shimmering, showing you a glimpse of something beyond this known reality.

Day Four: The Revealing

You’ll be riding those waves of bliss from the previous days but a nagging feeling will have started. Maybe you’ve had a medium-gauge negative interaction with someone. Or you made it to a hatha class and a mass of tension in your hip released as you concurrently realized another layer of self-judgement you hold. Another place in which you aren’t what you imagine yourself to be.

It’s okay, this is normal. If the whole thing were comfortable then there wouldn’t be much use of an Ashram, would there? No one said personal growth was easy.

Day Five: The Shifting

You’ll feel soft and permeable. You’ll enjoy visiting deeper with friends and yesterday’s realizations will have invigorated you somehow. Isn’t is funny how an experience can do that? You’ll think it’s negative at first and then later, once your mind has exhausted itself running possibilities, you’ll see the gift in it. Part of the gift will be in that very process. How we can move beyond our limitations and shift into new perspectives.

You’ll start to think about packing your suitcase. About getting a ride to the ferry or how you’ll get into town. Concerns in the world will creep in to your awareness. You’ll notice them. You’ll ask them to wait, you’re not ready to think about them yet. You want to go deeper, stay longer. You want to chant in the prayer room with the sunlight reflecting off the lake, blaring in so bright you can’t see Swami Radha in the picture frame on the altar. All you’ll see is your own face, reflecting back in the glass. And you’ll find such reassurance in that, like you always do.

Day Six: The Leaving Even Though Part of You Never Really Leaves

The morning will come gently and swift. It will rise up pink over the Selkirks and replicate itself perfectly against the smooth glass of Kootenay Lake. You’ll wonder then if actually you’ll live two days. There’ll be the one in which you can stay here and keep doing the only thing that’s ever really made any sense to you: getting to know yourself, serving selflessly and offering back what seems like nothing in comparison to all that you’ve been given. And that other day, the one where you leave because you know that’s what you need to do right now. And you know that you’ll be back.

You’ll leave just after breakfast for the ferry. You’ll feel solid, strong.

You’ll feel grateful that you know what home is.


Photo on 2013-09-17 at 6.28 PM #2

Back a number of lifetimes ago, when I lived on a boat and the sea would rock me back and forth every night, I used to keep my eyes open for habour seals.

One morning in particular I spotted a happy seal diving down down down before I’d see it again, its dog-like face smiling fiercely into the rising sun. This was my chance.

Gingerly, I reached for the fishing rod, stepped up onto the slanted cabin and found the perfect spot to sit. You see, anytime a habour seal was about, I knew mackerel would be there, too, and I was eager for a fresh breakfast.

I took a few casts without drawing any fish. Undeterred, I flicked back my wrists as I bent my elbows and threw my hook out into the deep. Well, I tried to, anyway. The line had snagged on itself — got all twisted and knotted and pretty much useless. I hauled it back in to investigate.

The entire line had twirled into itself to become a giant mass of blueish white. And so I sat there straightening it out. I sat there as I heard the town church-bell toll the top of the hour. And I was still sitting there when it tolled again. And again. And again. Eventually, in clear bright tones, it sang out the next hour.

I had been sitting there without a break for over 60 minutes, untangling that fishing line. By the time I finished, the habour seal — and the fish that had drawn it — was gone.


I woke up in BC today, arriving yesterday after a week in Alberta. Sleep was fitful and full of dreams.

The night before I’d been in my parent’s basement, rifling through boxes of my old lives. There’s a logical chronology in my stored items that doesn’t exists anywhere else in my life. This section is from Montreal; here’s what I had in New Zealand; those are the items I haven’t touched since getting divorced; that and that are from each time at the Ashram.

Urgency drove me forward, opening boxes and taking items I think I’ll need in the UK. There must be something here to salvage, something I can take from all these lives I’ve lived. I was feeling a little desperate. The last 10 years of my life laid bare on concrete and wooden slats, boxed and bagged to keep out the damp.

That desperation wanted everything to fit together perfectly, for there to be some sort of order to my continent-hopping. I want a thread that ties it all together so I can make sense of it all. I know this feeling. I know this sense of disparate identity. It catches me when I expect it to and it comes from nowhere.

The reality is that material possessions won’t weave together the stages of a life. The thing that ties it all together is me.

Morning lifted after watery dreams, and today my heart felt like a knot. My mind began cataloguing all the reasons why I could feel stressed and anxious — and then I stopped. I’ve dealt with knots before.

With a gentle persistence, I let my heart relax and eased into the knot. I don’t have to apply for every job today. I don’t have to get into town at a certain hour and it’s okay I’ve overslept to catch the bus. There’s plenty of time to sort through the items I gathered yesterday and do my morning practice.

I worked at the knots using what I know, sitting with myself and holding my mind to some accountability instead of letting it run wild with anxious thought. 

Rather than dexterous fingers and keen eyesight, I can use Light, breath and mantra on these twisted lines.

It didn’t take an hour. Eventually I untied the knot.