Thursday, August 14, 2008

"Art of Leaving"

If there is one smile which comes across my mind whenever I get in the spiritual scheme of things, it is none other than Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. His smile is enough to heal a thousand wounds. My guess is most of you must have already realized the spelling mistake right at the heading of the blog, but that’s just a way of expressing my experience at the camp which I attended in the month of April of 2008.

It is funny that most of us feel the need of divine intervention at difficult times. Some of them however take it over from there and make it a way of life. I fall in to the majority group. I still look after the unknown when the going gets tough.

Humans are meticulously architect-ed. Every single part of us is perfectly designed and planned. It is amazing that stress can induce shoulder ache, anxiety, depression and other symptoms. So when I am not at my very best, I often think for a quick fix to heal the hormones which avalanche and overwhelm at the very hint of stress. When a friend of mine was describing me about his experience with AOL, I knew I wanted to experiment with. However deep inside, I did not want people to call me a saint. So I was little hesitant to take a step further. However with so much of insecurity at work and anxiety elsewhere, I decided to try it out even if that meant spending a few. I completed the formalities and was told to report sharp at 6 am the following morning. Rising early is'nt a difficult task for me these days. It seems that my oversleeping during the adolescence days has paid off and now my appetite for oversleep is all but over. So with a fresh mind and I walked at 5:45 am sharp on the first day of the six day course. I was told to wear comfortably. I wore my cricket tracks and a dark yellow scribbled T-shirt. I entered the venue with a curious mind. I was greeted with a happy lot of volunteers. After a struggle of 15 minutes, they found my identity card and handed it over to me with a warning to hand it over at the end of every day. I did not understand the logic of handing it over every day; however later I realized that it was the method to note the absentees. I was happy to see groups of morning minted, fresh looking human counterparts. Most of them where standing at seduced locations, to exchange banter with people who they were already well acquainted with, while some were busy looking serious. There were also a few who wanted to shake a hand with everyone possible, while there were some who wanted the instructor to arrive ASAP and set the ball rolling. These are the types of people who did not like socializing much. I fall in to the mix of all the described categories. I did not have much of an acquaintance though. At around 6:15 am (very late by AOL standards), a smiling and wiry framed instructor arrived. He had warmth in his smile. However sometimes he forcibly smiled, but it looked good at him either ways.

He introduced himself and gave us some very stringent warning. Mobile where supposed to be either kept at home or, they had to be switched off. Late arrival wouldn’t be tolerated. Now most of us were quite amused by this as he was himself late. However nobody pointed it out. Tea, caffeine, drugs, smoke and anything which artificially made people feel good was a strict ‘no’ and not just for the day, but all six days minimum. Following it for the rest of the life was up to us. After this announcement, strangers looked at each other with kinky smile as if they were proud of sashaying their ill habits and had already heard such advice a million times now to no effect. I was prepared for this and wanted to follow it (No, I am not a druggist; I was an avid tea/coffee drinker though). I had come to the camp with a sincere and a serious mind. So I was happy, that I was not going to indulge in to tea at least for the six days. The tone was set for the course.

Now that all had started, we were unsettled by the instructors and were told to introduce each of us with a very unique method. We were supposed to jump in the air and then with a Namaskar position, introduce ourselves. Strange method; but that brought some dynamism in the atmosphere and we were smiling, laughing, and introducing ourselves to the 60 people odd crowd. After this terrific introduction which shrugged off some static energy, we began to loosen ourselves. One by one, we stretched almost every single organ of the body. We started feeling much better. For about half and hour we danced our way from a stale body to a mass which had blood circulated to every possible part. We were also taught some of the Yogasana’s and were expected to do the same with the same flexibility of the instructor in the very first attempt. Most of us tried our best. While some shrieked on difficult asanas, others were trying their way out from instructors. I learnt the surya-namaskar for the first time and I found it really beautiful. Every step in 12 steps has a unique importance and if done with proper breathing techniques can work wonders. After about 10 surya-namaskar’s, we were sweating profusely. Some of them, who already knew how to do it, were doing with pride and others were trying to ape them. So after this heavy warm-up (or was it a complete workout?) we were given a much wanted break. During this break most of us were laughing the loudest which conveyed that we liked the beginning. The break was supposed to be of 10 minutes. So after ten minutes, we assembled with a new found energy. Some of the over enthusiastic people were still busy gossiping and were trying to promise to each other that we are going to do this for the rest of their lives. After some serious protrude, they decided to make their presence felt. With a warmed up body, we were told to sit in a relaxed mode. It was time for some lecture, which was very refreshing, but had the content which almost everybody knew, but failed to follow it. After an attempt to refresh our mind, we were told that the much talked about Sudarshan Kriya would commence. We were told to close our eyes for the beginning of kriya. We were taught a three stage breathing technique. We had to inhale through the nose and had to let the inhaled air to pass through the throat making a storm like sound. And no, not everyone picked that up correctly. I had no clue as to what I was doing. Strange voices echoed the room. It seemed that all wild animals had a get-together and were singing a common anthem in their own unique way. However the instructors were kind enough to walk to almost every abnormal sounding individual and whispered them to correct their breathing. After about ten minutes, there was uniformity in the way people breathed (There were exceptions, who had come with a mind to make the weirdest of sounds). I was lucky enough to have normal humans as my neighbor. This breathing technique was called ‘UJJAIN ME SAANS LENA’ and it already was having an effect. So with our palms resting on laps and facing the ceiling, we were breathing in ujjain and in unison. I had no clue as to how long we did that, but slowly I started feeling a little bit of numbness on the face. With that over, we had the numbness literally traveled to every part of the body, but we realized that this was just the beginning.

With our eyes still closed, we were told to breathe normally for few minutes. And then we performed ‘Bhastrika’. In this we had to raise our arms with a tight fist and then release the fist at the peak of the arm raise. We had to do this gradually adjusting our breathing according to the speed of the raising and relaxing of the hands. I don’t really remember when we chanted the OM. For the first time in life I realized how the mantra was chanted. We had to breathe deeply and while relaxing the breathe we had to voice out the mantra. At the end of this tiring process, we were chanting the SOHAM mantra. We were told to lie on our backs with eyes closed. I was in the world of my own. The experience stands out so much that it is indescribable in words. When we woke up from that meditative frame, the world seemed different to me. Every thing was different. The colors looked brighter, the contrast was perfect, the atmosphere was happy and people seemed to enjoy the moment. It took us some time to come back to the materialistic world and then we realized that it was already past 9:45 am. But no one was complaining. It seemed like we were least bothered of worries and were ready to take the challenges of the world.
With an absolute new born energy, we walked happily to home and then to office. I had made up my mind to give up caffeine which I did. Not just for those six days, but for a good one and a half month. This program went for 6 complete days. There was a sense of satisfaction in each one of us. On the sixth day, we had a get-together with the evening batch mates and exchanged gifts and food with each other. At the end of the course, we had made up our mind to practice the art for the rest of our lives. I actually tried for a couple of weeks, but succumbed to other things in life. However, what I achieved is my addiction for caffeine was reduced manifold and it seems that I have better control over things in life. That’s why I call this Art of Leaving which indirectly teaches us the art to live. Jay Gurdev!

Note: This article is supposed to be my experience with AOL and is not intended to be a guide to practice any of the asanas. Only certified instructors at AOL have the authority and the knowledge to guide properly.