The awakening: In which I discover an old soul in a young friend

Two years ago I attended a 23 day silent meditation program in Dharamsala at Ajay and Suruchi’s center called Zmeditation and it has been one of the hardest things I have done in the course of my spiritual journey. Our program comprised nine individuals, each from a different country – Ariana, a healthcare professional from Canada, Rasmus, a pilot from Denmark, Christina a pharmacist from Germany, Christian a KPMG consultant from Hungry, Zandra a teacher from Sweden, Leela a grandmother from Malaysia, Lee a teacher from China, Gary from Canada, and I was the token representative from India. In terms of age, most of us were in our mid or late 30s, except for two people – Leela who was in her mid 50s and Christina who was 21.

Thinking back, I remember being friendlier to those in my age group. Also I think I consciously avoided women because I thought most of them had been inspired by the book Eat, Pray and Love! I was a bit of a spiritual snob then and thought that the men were more serious students of the divine while the women were on an inexpensive detox trip. This was expecially true of Christina. When I looked at her, I had a stereotypical notion that a girl her age should be dancing in a discotheque in Germany and getting drunk. I didn’t think she was ready to sit through a 23 day silent mediation program in the Himalayas.

The course started on the 1st of April, 2011. It was an intense course. We would get up at 5 am to be ready for an hour’s mediation at 6 am with Ajay. After our mediation class, Ajay taught key concepts on meditation. After breakfast, there was a creative class, where we would have to answer a deep question via art or poetry. After lunch there was a two-hour break and in the evening there was a two-hour yoga class, followed again by meditation. After dinner there was another class. It was an exhausting schedule and everyone would we would be drained by night time.

For most of us it was very difficult to sit in the lotus position for an hour to meditate. We would get fidgety very soon, our minds were not calm, and I felt that some others were as restless as me. I would especially get irritated at Christina’s fidgetiness, but then remembered how fidgety I was in my 20s.

The first week of the course was very difficult for me. I had never stayed silent for this long. I was not checking my phone, or my messages, and did not have access to the Internet. I felt completely disconnected from the world and was very uncomfortable. I could not wait for the program to end. Staying silent was depressing me and around the third day I had an intense desire to run away. In fact, I told my teachers that I would not stay past the seventh day and they told me that they would discuss it after the seventh day.

Around the fifth day I started to calm down and enjoy the silence. When the seventh day came I told the teachers that I would stay. The eighth day was the Tara day, which is a day of silence, but there are no classes and participants get a break from the daily routine. I felt that I needed to go out for sometime. Since I knew Dharamsala well and had driven up in a car, I decided to ask a few others to join me for sightseeing. Rasmus, Leena, Christina and Ariana wanted to join me and we went to the nearby monastery of Norbulingka and the Gyuto Tantrik University. The one-day break helped and I could feel a calm descending on me; I started to enjoy meditation instead of seeing it as a torture.

The tenth day of the program was a landmark day for me as I had a very intense spiritual experience. It is very difficult to describe it in words. I felt as if my spine was being pulled up towards the ceiling, almost as if somebody was pulling it up and straightening it. An intense energy passed through my body and I saw golden, white and violet light descend into me and the upper portion of my body went into a spin. I had never experienced such a beautiful feeling of joy, peace and stillness. The experience lasted for 5 to 10 minutes. I continued to have similar intense experiences every time I sat down for mediation for the next few days.

However, when the second week ended, I felt that I needed to get back to my work and asked permission to leave. I felt that my search was over with the spiritual moments I had experienced during meditation and that I had nothing more to gain from the program. However, the teachers insisted that I stay one more week to solidify my experience.

After the second week, a day of rest came again. I was restless once again and proposed going to McLeodganj to the group. I particularly wanted to spend time with Ariana as seemed to be a serious student. She would take her notes very intently, sit in mediation very still and had the demeanor of a very focused and serious student. However, she said she wanted to stay in the center and it was others like Christina and Christian, who I had no interest in spending time, who happily agreed to come along; reluctantly I took them along.

This time we were six of us who ‘escaped’ from the center. We feasted on pizzas and pastas, a welcome break from the satvik fare of the centre and spoke to each other, breaking another rule of the program. By this time, it was the fifteenth day of program and I was in no mood to follow rules anymore. Also I felt that whatever I was trying to find, I had found and did not need rules to tell me my way to God.

As we sat over lunch, I got to know Christina a bit more. I realized she was little more than a 21 years old. I began to realize that her search is as real as mine and she was at the program by conscious choice. I realized she was as restless and adventurous as me. So I told her my plan to escape every afternoon in the last week of the program and invited her to join me if she so desired; she was thrilled at the prospect of escape.

As the third week progressed, each day I would escape after lunch and my partner in crime was Christina. She and I would sneakily leave the center, drive to Norbulingka for coffee and then visit my friend Anish’s organic food shop. After the first three days, Ariana also joined our gang and we went to Mcleodganj for coffee and banana cake. The meditation center had a very wholesome simple meal plan and we used to miss coffee, cakes and junk food and so these escapades became a must by the third week.

The course ended on the twenty third day and we all said goodbye to each other. Some of us decided that we would meet in two years. Like all such promises, I knew it would not stand the test of time.

I was initially planning to drive back alone when Christina and Zandra decided to ride back with me. The 12 hour drive back offered us a chance to really get to know each other. Zandra was a kindergarten school teacher and she had come for a 5-week teacher training course at Zmeditation. Christina was a pharmacist; she had traveled at 18 to Malawi, Africa as an aid worker. She had seen extreme poverty and suffering in Africa. She nearly died twice in Africa. She had come to India, as she was confused about her career and love. The person she loved was from Brazil and in order for him to stay in Germany she had to marry him as without marriage he would have to leave Germany. She was unsure if that was the right reason to marry him. She was hoping to find answers to these questions during her stay in India and in particular the meditation program.

Though we had promised to keep in touch with each other, correspondence was intermittent. I never heard from Zandra at all and Ariana only corresponded for the first two-three months. I did not hear much from Christina, except for two emails in two years. One email, I received a few months after the course, in which she said she had resolved her confusion and was marrying her Brazilian boyfriend. The second email I got was late last year where she was questioning life and its purpose. She said she had left the life of a pharmacist and had gone back to school to study art therapy. In that email she asked about my past life regression experience, as she felt that her mind was beginning to accept the possibility of past life. I was surprised by this as on our drive back to Delhi, Christina had rubbished the idea and looked at me as if I was a crazy person; in fact she debated long and hard as to why the concept of past lives was not possible.

Then in February, I received another message from Christina. She said that she wanted to come to India, in particular Rishikesh. I sensed an urgency in her mail and perhaps even a demand that I fulfill the promise of going to Rishikesh, a promise I had made two years ago. I was happy to read the urgency, but I was not sure if I had time to fulfill my promise. Finally after many emails going back and forth, we agreed on the date of 21st May and it was decided that we would first stay for three days at Onkaranad Ashram and then move to Parmarth Ashram.

As Christina walked out of the airport, my first impression was she had matured ten years in the last two. And I also felt that she is not happy. I felt this was a very different Christina compared to the one who left India two years ago; her soul seemed tired and exhausted, as if life had taught her some major lessons.

Being a somewhat sarcastic person, I said, “You look so happy!” She immediately agreed that she was happy compared to the last time she was in India. She said she is very happy about all the choices she had made. But somehow I felt a dissonance in her thoughts, words, actions and being. So I asked her why she had come to India if she was happy and her response was that her gut told her that India would give her answers to her questions about life’s purpose.

For the first three days of our trip we stayed at Onkaranand Ashram. Our Ashram was on the Ganga and my room had a beautiful view. Our daily routine was getting up at 5.30 am and meditating by the river side. The plan was to meditate for an hour, but Christina used to get fidgety in less than half the time. I would be aware of her fidgetiness but this time, unlike two years prior, I chose not to get disturbed. I sympathized with her as I had experienced something beautiful two years ago and she was trying hard to experience something similar. But I knew these things happen at the right time without notice.

I saw she had the same intensity to read and find answers that I once had. She wanted me to teach her the key concepts of Gita, but I had lost interest in books and concepts. But she was keen so one afternoon I explained to her the concept of Sankhya Yoga. In the evenings we would go to a hath yoga class and post dinner we would sit and chat, before heading for bed at 10 pm.

One morning Christina wanted to take photos with gurus and yogis that sit on the ghats of Rishikesh. As we were taking photos, I got drawn to one babaji in particular. He had beautiful green eyes. He was well spoken and fluent in English (a neutral Indian accent). He looked like a Sikh and he intrigued us. We asked him where he was from and he said he is a German! I was astonished as I could never have imagined that. He said he renounced his material life in 1981 and since then he had lived on the banks of the Ganga. I asked what he did all by the river and his response was enigmatic – “I sit here and watch the movie”. I asked him what if you are not watching the movie, but are in the movie. He said then one should be aware that one is in the movie. I asked how do you get out of the movie. He said you would know when your time comes to get out of the movie. I just could not stop my tears hearing him. He had the most beautiful soul and eyes I have seen lately.

We were trying to follow the schedule that we had at Zmeditation center, but since we had to step out for every meal it was getting difficult to follow a discipline. I suggested that we go to a more serious ashram, where we could follow a rigorous schedule as we both are rule breakers and we would not be able to follow this self created structure of mediation, yoga, study and wholesome eating. Christina agreed that it was a good idea.

My friend, Dr Yogesh Choudhry, helped us identify Swami Rama’s Ashram, which is 10 kms away from the center of Rishikesh. Set on 10 acres of land, the ashram is very beautiful, with lush green manicured gardens, large yoga and meditation halls, a large kitchen where all the students meet for meals. The schedule was much like the Zmeditation center. The day starts at 4.15 with a wakeup bell. Thereafter there is morning mediation and a yoga class. Post breakfast there were more classes and again post lunch. In the evening, there was another yoga and meditation class.

The ashram is headed by Swami Ved Bharti, who is on a five year vow of silence. He led the evening mediation with around 30 advanced students. Somehow Christina and I were allowed to stay in the ashram and accepted in the class with him. This did raise a few eyebrows and one senior lady in the center asked how we got permission to be there.

In the mediation class I would often go into deep state and had the same experience that I had two years ago, with my body going into a spin. On the other hand Christina would be fidgety and restless after 30 minutes. On the fifth day of our trip she said, “I get jealous when you go into spin and I cannot”. I told her it took me 14 years to get to that state. And that she should be patient as she is only 23. In fact she should be proud of herself as she is already so advanced at a young age. She shared with me that she had started her spiritual journey when she was 14 and I told her that she needed to have patience and not be so hard on herself. She listened to the logic but dismissed my suggestion to be patient.

By the third day at Swami Rama’s ashram, the familiar feeling of restlessness was upon us once again, so one afternoon we left without informing the ashram. Speaking for myself, I was not enjoying the ashram, as I constantly compared it with Zmeditation center. Though, I liked the beauty of the ashram and the principal teacher, Swami Ved Bharti, I found most of the students unfriendly, serious and humorless. I realized that I was there only to help Christina.

When we stepped out of the ashram, we found the gate to Rajaji National Park and decided to take that route. We drove on the open road after nearly a week. We stopped every few minutes to feed monkey and langoors. I felt more spiritual on the open roads than sitting for mediation in structured classes. I feel divine energy is everywhere – in nature and in experiencing the world.

I feel meditation is a must like food. Like food is for the body, meditation is for the soul. And just like one cannot eat food all day, similarly one cannot meditate all day. One has to give oneself food and meditation in order one can go and serve in the world.

I saw Christina was having more fun with the monkeys, feeding them, playing with them, than she was in the ashram. So I suggested that instead of going back to the Ashram we should travel further instead of spending the whole trip locked indoors. I proposed Devprayag, where the Alaknanda and the Bhagirathi meet to form the Ganga. Bhagirathi is green in color, very clear water. Alakhnanda is high in sedimentation, and not clear waters. This idea took root in Christina as she had a strong desire to take a dip in the Ganga, but had been hesitant till then as everybody constantly stared at her in the Rishikesh Ghats. So I suggested we could take a dip in the Ganga at Devprayag and that might be a beautiful spiritual experience.

So on the seventh day of our trip we checked out of the Ashram and drove to Devprayag. We had no plan except to escape Ashram life. I love it when one has no plan; it is as if our souls were born with a plan and then we were made to forget the plan. The adventure of finding our plan is the biggest adventure. It is even more an adventure when you find your plan but you do not know how you achieve that plan.

On the way, we found a nice hotel midway between Rishikesh and Devprayag. We decided that we would stay there for a couple of days and would drive up to Devprayag to take a dip in the Ganga and drive back to hotel.

We reached Devprayag around 3 pm. First we went to the ghats (a staircase leading down from the bank to a body of water, particularly a holy river.) to see if Christina could take a holy dip, but there were too many people and she was not comfortable. I told her of a place I had seen that had steps going down to the river and I had seen nobody there. It seemed like a good spot to take her dip.

Finally we reached the spot where we got our first dip in the Ganga. Christina went into an energy overdrive. I had never seen her like this; I felt as if her soul had waited all her life to get into the Ganga and finally the moment had come. Her exuberance was beyond words. I felt there was 5-year-old child going crazy in a splash pool.

I found a high spot and sat down to meditate. The river flow was so strong and noisy that I could not hear her anymore. I zoned out for a bit and stopped hearing any sounds from her. For a moment I panicked thinking maybe something had happened to her. When I opened my eyes, I saw that she had quietly joined me on the rock where I was sitting. Seeing her safe, I went back to my meditation and resurfaced after about 30 minutes. By then the hard rock was beginning to hurt me. I saw she was still sitting there on the rock, very still, without fidgeting, and I was very surprised. This was not the Christina I knew. Normally she would get restless within 20 minutes even if she were sitting on a cushioned surface. I let her be and concentrated on taking pictures as the spot she was mediating was beautiful.

She sat on the hard rock for more than an hour, like a rock herself. And after an hour I saw her spin. I knew she was not in her body when she was sitting there. By that time, I saw the water in the river start to rise. The current was very strong and if one were to fall, there would be no chance of survival. I sat next to her for last bit of her meditation as I wanted to ensure she does not fall into the river. Finally after more than an hour she opened her eyes. Her eyes sparkled, as if she had finally found what she was searching for.

She said with a big smile, “I saw the White Light”.

That moment in time was unplanned and crept up out of nowhere, to create a space when everything merged for Christina. I felt a tremendous sense of relief that she had finally experienced what she had long been waiting for.

Many students have this quest for White Light, but very few achieve it. Jesus said that “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able”. Krishna said in Gita “Among thousands of men and women, perhaps one strives for perfection, and among those who strive hardly one reaches the Truth”

The next day she wanted to go to the same spot and meditate. I discouraged her and told her not to get attached to the experience. I explained that when the mind wants to replicate an experience it gets even harder to access. I told her let us leave this trip with a high, as what she had experienced was precious and she should process it internally. The experience would grow in time and she would understand the significance in a few years. However, she insisted on going back, and I had no choice but to go back. As expected the same experience but that did not happen. However, but she was pleased that she got one more chance to see the Ganga.

On the drive back to Delhi she seemed relaxed. She suddenly expressed a desire to meet Dr Yogesh Choudhry for the past life regression therapy and I helped set up her appointment.

After her session, Dr Choudhry called me to say that she had a beautiful session where her three teachers had appeared and that she also saw one past lifetime. According to him, she is a special soul, whose mission on earth is to spread happiness and she comes from the golden light. He was very excited to meet her.

Next she wanted to meet Dr MS Chatham, who does chakra healing. After her session, he too called and said, “How did you meet Christina? She seems to be a very special soul, who has been working on herself for many lifetimes.”

Her trip was coming to an end now. She seemed excited to go back home. I could also see there was relief that years of struggle to find answers was worth it. But I also saw that she was little disoriented; she had seen a lot in the short span of her last three days in India. I asked her how she was feeling and she said, “When I came to India two weeks back I was not confused, and now I go back confused”.

As she was leaving at airport, I was thinking, two years ago she came to India confused and she went back from India clear. This trip she came to India clear and she left confused.

Such is the mystery of India, it has invited spiritual seekers for eons and has evoked so many souls.

I saw Christina in new light as she was leaving for Germany. I no longer saw her as a young and naïve 23-year-old, but an old and wise soul, who has been vising earth for eons.

This was the first story of White Light and I hope many more yet to come.

With Love,
Varun

PS: To look at the work of some of the teachers who helped Christina, visit their websites:

Photographs from Dharamsala, Rishikesh and Devprayag

6 Thoughts on “The awakening: In which I discover an old soul in a young friend

  1. Very well written dear! Many more to come.

  2. Prettybee on June 18, 2013 at 11:39 am said:

    What exactly is spiritual..i wonder….may be there is a simple explanation for the “white light”….may be it is something to do with the chemicals in the human mind which when focused consistently for a certain duration produces certain types of flashes similar to some sort of light….i am sure science must have had explained it somewhere…

    or may be it is experienced when one goes through certain epiphanic moments….when clarity dawns upon one’s mind…but why give it some lofty terms like divine or spiritual ( the way it is used/overused).

    this way one can spin any web and delude oneself to believe anything that is soothing to one’s mind..how would one progress to any truth….clarity..conflicts..clarity conflicts..seems to be the tide one needs to ride consistently and continuously to be able to evolve and reach closer to truth….

    “special soul”..really!!?…you are obviously enamored with the girl you write about…now i wonder is soul some sort of separate entity….”another food for thought”……

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