The first time I ever wrote myself a list of life goals, around age 16, my most unusual goal was to meditate with monks. I envisioned myself gathering knowledge from multiple university degrees in various subjects and then going somewhere like Tibet to spend a month or so meditating in a bare bones monastery. During that time of silence, peacefulness and focus I would be able to apply my knowledge to solve one of humankind’s great problems like world hunger. After I outlined the basic details of this to my parents, they pointed out that girls aren’t allowed to live with monks and that perhaps I could go to a nunnery. Yikes. The thought of living in a nunnery for any period of time still scares me and definitely brought into question my understanding of what a monastery is in the first place. My plans were put on hold.
This life goal sat at the back of my mind for years. As time passed and yoga continued to grow in popularity in the Western world, I started to hear about ashrams in India where anyone could go to practice yoga and meditation. This sounded like just what I needed – and with a bonus of yoga! Yoga vacations are now so much in demand that they are really quite simple to arrange.
When deciding to quit my steady job to travel around the world, it was obvious to me that this was the optimal time to achieve this goal. Never mind the fact that my one university degree in actuarial science was not the right subject matter for solving the world’s problems. I figured that a few weeks of meditation should provide me with some sort of clarity even if it were only a new personal insight.
It’s important to note that prior to this trip, I’d only briefly toyed with the idea of meditation. I admired those who meditated daily and imagined that they started every day at peace with themselves and with what the day ahead would bring. I hoped that this yoga vacation I’d planned for myself would help me figure out meditation and bring me more inner strength. Well, it was a great idea, but on this trip at least, I utterly failed at meditation. My biggest hurdles were physical injuries: one sustained prior to the start of my trip and a new one as a result of my Himalayan trekking. Both these injuries made sitting on the ground uncomfortable and at times painful. Despite my best efforts, I just couldn’t hold a comfortable position long enough to meditate.
Now for my silver lining: the good news was that all the yoga I was doing, combined with my previously assigned physiotherapy exercises and my knowledge of what yoga exercises would hinder vs help, was accelerating the recovery path for my injuries. On my physiotherapy path, I’d already vowed to reform my approach to physical fitness to be more holistic and it was my time in the ashram that helped me develop a daily habit toward this goal.
Instead of coming out of my yoga vacation with a daily practice of meditation and insight into solving the world’s problems, I came out with a daily yoga practice and a renewed focus on recovery and keeping by body healthy and fit. If you don’t have your health, what do you have? My time in an ashram may have resulted in more of a physical than spiritual experience, but it was exactly what I needed at the time.