I contemplated splitting this post into two, given its length. In the end, I decided to stick with a single post. I pray that it is worth your time. Thank you for reading 🙂
Today marks my 392nd day at the ashram. 392 days which have, at times, passed like the blink of an eye and at other times, like a never-ending second.
This post is about the latter.
It is a sunny winter afternoon as I sit in my room now, typing away, imagining that this is how Swamiji must also tap away at his keyboard when He readies His post for the Saturday ahead 🙂 His work space must be, however, pristine – spic and span beyond my comprehension because I have never been a very tidy person. Even now, I’m eyeing the laundry that has piled up, the plate that’s still sitting out from lunch and a couple of Amazon parcels that have been lying unopened for four days.
Tidiness and organization are not my strong suit. From paragliding in Bir and river rafting in Rishikesh because I woke up one morning and it sounded like fun to quitting an unsatisfactory job and moving across the country to make a relationship work, my life has seemed like one long spontaneous moment, much like this sentence 🙂
Therefore, in my mind, the two characteristics never meshed. I couldn’t be disciplined and spontaneous at the same time. Impossible!
It was one of the first things that struck me when I stepped into the ashram. Everything ran like clockwork. For the 6:15 PM discourse, Swamiji would walk in promptly between 6:12 and 6:14. The Aarthi began at exactly 7:00 AM/7:00 PM. Meetings began exactly at the minute they were scheduled to. And these meeting timings that were pinned to the notice board every morning never failed to amaze me. 10:18, 10:21, 10:24: how could someone have their life planned to the minute like this?
In the age of YouTube and Instagram, 30 minutes pass like 3. I would click on an interesting-looking movie trailer and, 30 minutes later, would find myself in the middle of a video where Americans were reacting to the taste of Indian snacks. The YouTube algorithm is as befuddling as it is enticing.
Here was Swamiji though, wasting not a minute. Scratch that. Here was Swamiji, wasting not a second more than necessary. To a person like me, skilled in the art of procrastination and lazing around, it seemed unimaginable.
At least, this was the story I told myself. And it dictated nearly a decade of my life.
Once I had decided I wanted to stay a few months and volunteer (a story for another time), I struggled. I was assigned a roommate who also arrived at the ashram to volunteer; I can only imagine the ordeal I put her through. Her side of the room would be utterly, utterly neat, not a thing out of place. Even the few strands of hair that fell from her brush did so respectfully, quietly arranging themselves in a circle on the floor before she placed them in the bin. She had a laundry schedule and washed her clothes every three-four days. Her clothes were immediately folded and put away. Her bed was made first thing in the morning. She’d wake up in the freezing cold and shower before the Aarthi, even on days when the power went out and there was no hot water.
I would observe her in awe.
Because on the other side of the room was me, rolling out of bed at 6:55 AM, sleepily jamming my feet into slippers and wandering down to the temple. I’d make my way back after the Aarthi and begrudgingly head into the shower, telling myself I was in an ashram and skipping a bath was not an option. On days there was no hot water, however, it was a lost cause.
“It’s winter. You’re in layers. Nobody’s going to know!” My mind would argue and I would give in, quite joyfully, because taking a shower has always felt like an immensely tedious task to me. And I have not yet learnt to just do what needs to be done with the equanimity of a person walking the spiritual path 🙂
Nobody ever did find out except Raghu Swamiji. Unfailingly, every morning that I didn’t shower, he’d take one look at me and go, “Aaj snaan nahi kiya? Kya ganda baccha hai!” (You didn’t shower today? What a dirty child!”) I would blush and grumble about how he could have asked Bhagvan for any siddhi but here he was, harbouring bath-scanning technology. He would also announce it to whoever passed by (“Dekho, yeh aaj snaan nahi kiya!”) thus compounding my embarrassment.
I would attempt to wash my clothes with regularity but sometimes, three weeks would pass while my laundry patiently waited for me to attend to it. The same went with folding clothes. Out in the world, this is many a young person’s reality, one who is living alone and figuring out adulthood. In an ashram, it felt almost blasphemous. Many nights, I went to bed almost in tears, unable to understand why I was so unorganized and averse to discipline. Determined to change, I’d wake up the next morning full of verve only to slide right back into my old pattern.
My roommate put up with all of it as gracefully as possible but eventually, of course, it took a toll. Four months later, we were asked to switch rooms and I took the opportunity to ask for an independent room. She hid her relief well with a friendly smile and an invitation to come visit sometime 🙂
With a lot more space and a room all to myself, it became a wild ride. Books, clothes, snacks, skincare – everything piled up. And every day, I’d seek Swamiji’s forgiveness because if He ever paid me a visit in a dream or His energies chose to enter my room, He would be entering a space that went against everything He preaches. I felt a great sense of shame. Such is the enormous pull of the mind’s strongest tendencies though that only, only Divine Grace can break it. And that was exactly what happened one sunny afternoon in June when it all came to a head.
Feeling quite health conscious that week, I’d ordered a bunch of vegetables and leafy greens from Solan. By the time they arrived though, health had safely taken a backseat to laziness. I kept the bag filled with vegetables by the door and promptly forgot about it. Days went by and every now and then, I would be nagged by the thought of dropping the bag off at the gaushala so that the cows could eat the vegetables since I wasn’t. But I kept putting it off.
And then, one afternoon, I came back to my room. I’d been out in the sun all morning, and I was tired and starving. I couldn’t wait to eat and maybe take a nap. As I opened the door to leave my water bottle and head to the dining hall, I spied something on the doorframe.
Oh no! Please, please, please not a spider! I prayed as I leaned closer to take a look. In the heat, they came out in droves and I’d already driven out at least a dozen from my room that summer. Hungry as I was, I was not in the mood to take a broom and chase after a playful spider.
As I leaned down, it moved and I inhaled sharply. What on earth was this?
In slow motion, I watched two legs eerily extend toward me and I flinched. Holy! It was a spider but it was no ordinary spider. Black, hairy and the largest one I’d ever seen, it turned towards me as I watched, frozen. There was something white bulging in its middle and somehow, past the sheer horror of the moment, my mind proudly threw a science fact at me. It was the baby sac! It also conjured up the memory of a YouTube video I’d once watched of someone chasing a pregnant spider from their home and the sac had burst with hundreds and hundreds of baby spiders scuttling out.
Oh, the horror.
If this thing found its way into my room, I would never be able to get it out. Where would I even hunt for it in the mess? And if the sac burst?
Oh, the horror.
Inch by inch, I opened the door and edged in, careful not to disturb it in any way. I reached for my broom and stepped outside again. Just one swooping motion, I told myself. One swooping motion and it’ll land outside. No need to worry. In high-pressure moments, the mind begins throwing up strange imagery. As I took aim and gauged the distance from the broom to the spider, I saw Virat Kohli getting ready to bat and Dhoni as he took strike for the final six in the World Cup.
Great. Just what I needed.
I took a deep breath and swung the broom in one swooping motion. It hit dead center and the spider went flying.
Straight inside my room.
I let out a gasp and flung open the door in time to see it scuttling behind the dustbin. I banged my broom against the bin and it came scurrying out, straight towards me. I gasped again and jumped out of the way.
What was I going to do, what was I going to do! I was completely convinced that Swamiji had sent the spider as a punishment for not keeping my room clean. I watched, horrified, as the spider ran back behind the dustbin, but not before the sac burst, releasing hundreds and hundreds of baby spiders. I’d landed in a nightmare of my own doing.
Taking a flying leap onto my bed, I pulled out my phone and called Ajeet bhaiya, the electrician at the ashram and my hero in such moments. I’d once watched him play with a snake before releasing it into the fields. “Please, Ajeet bhaiya, you have to come! There’s an enormous spider in my room and it’s spewing babies everywhere!” I cried.
“Acha. Can it wait?” he asked calmly, ever the joker. “I’m having lunch.”
“What do you mean, can it wait?!” I shrieked. “No, it can’t wait! Appointment poochke nahi aaya hai! There are hundreds of spiders in my room, do you understand?!”
“Theek hai, theek hai. Tension na lo. Main aa raha hoon.”
Three very, very long hours later, I’d cleaned out and scrubbed my room to within an inch of its life. The whole time, I wept at the number of baby spiders that had lost their lives minutes after opening their eyes, as we swept them all out. The mama spider survived and came back another day only to die as I swept her out of the room more forcefully than I had intended to. I later found out that the spider had been attracted to the smell of the leafy greens which had begun rotting.
So, so many lives lost. All because I hadn’t been able to keep a room clean.
Maybe Swamiji sent the spider. Maybe He didn’t. But Grace was operating that day and it taught me a lesson in a way I’ll never forget. It taught me the consequences of wrongful actions and how they can impact other lives when we think otherwise, how they can even kill. Never since that day has my room been so messy. Sure, there are days when the laundry isn’t done or the sheets haven’t been changed. But there is a mindfulness within now, an internal alarm that pushes me into action regularly, both with time and organization. Discipline is a slow process, one that can only be brought about through consistent practice. As Swamiji says, steady change is permanent change.
That day was one of the never-ending long seconds I’ve experienced here, one that hit me hard and left an indelible mark. I sat down at 3:30 PM after cleaning out the room, exhausted, not having eaten lunch. I took out my phone and my heart dropped at the notification I saw.
Sushant Singh Rajput dies by suicide.
Physically and emotionally wrung out, it was a day of death. And a moment of transformation. That day pushed me closer to Swamiji in a way I hadn’t felt before. I sought comfort from one of the poems I’d penned down months earlier, rereading it and understanding more than ever that He was the One, the only One.
Understanding but not yet experiencing it.
In a world like mine
which everyone seems to
can the ego make space for Truth?
How do I
with grace and dignity?
When will I
that there was never
anything to handle?
Will this conflict
what should be
and what is
You are my
only Sunshine 🙂
Take me into
a part of Your
until I don’t know
where You end
and I begin.
It’s meant to be –
this love story,
the Seeker and Sought,
the Verse and Song,
Surrender and You.
You and You.
No other love story even comes close. Not even Taylor Swift‘s 🙂
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for taking out a few minutes from your day to read this 🙂 I’m very grateful.
P.S: After writing this post, I made my way to the temple for the evening discourse where Swamiji then espoused the Bhagavad Gita‘s truth about lazy people and procrastinators. Will there ever come a time when Sri Hari ceases to amaze? I pray not 🙂