Narayan Ashram Retreat

I have just got back home from the SIDH retreat at Narayan Ashram. This retreat was unique in many ways. Firstly, Narayan Ashram set at an altitude of 9000 feet on the India-Nepal border is very difficult to get to. Our 35 participants arrived in many difficult ways but most of us reached Delhi from our various locations and then travelled by a tempo traveller to the Ashram. It took us 30 hours to reach the ashram and around 24 hours plus a night halt in Pithoragarh to travel back to Delhi. This was one of the most difficult road journeys I have ever done. Of course, once you reach the ashram and experience its tranquillity, its simplicity and its beauty, you forget the difficult journey you had to make to reach there. Established in 1936 by Shri Narayan Swami the ashram was on the old route for the Kailash-Mansarovar yatra and the many pilgrims and sages who would have passed through must have enhanced its sacredness.

Secondly, it was a longer retreat than the ones we normally conduct. We thought that since it is so difficult to reach we should stay a few extra days. This was useful and helped us get comfortable in each others company and open up our hearts during the retreat. It also helped that the only mobile network that works there was BSNL and that was also down most of the time. So we had practically no contact with the outside world and with no internet, we were cut away from our favourite social media addictions. All the news we avidly consume in our daily lives was unavailable to us and we seem to have managed fine and not experienced the withdrawal symptoms that addicts usually face. Our powerful smart phones worked only as alarm clocks and cameras!

Thirdly, the participants came from very diverse backgrounds. We had a very learned swamiji, two traditional Sanskrit scholars, five PhDs (engineering, ecology, political science, economics), founding members of two alternative schools, the founder of an ashram working on traditional crafts, a Sanskrit scholar-businessman, a retired banker, two fashion designers etc. Although the ashram provided us with very tasty, simple food, five of our participants were cooking and eating their own food. The ashram only had 4 and 5 bedded rooms, so this diverse group was staying and interacting with each other in a deep manner.

We ran the retreat with a focus on meditative silences and contemplative discussions on quotations taken from the works of Professor A.K. Saran, J. Krishnamurti, Dharampal etc. The objective of the discussions (held in small groups and presented in the main large group) was to look inwards and see the deep assumptions that we hold and, if possible, to break out of them and begin to see things with a little more clarity. I felt that some things that had lain in separate compartments in my mind got connected when I listened to the ongoing discussions. I hope that this has happened, to a smaller or larger extent, for all the participants who came for our Narayan ashram retreat. Swamiji’s blessing to all of us on the last day is an apt way to close this post. He said – “May you learn to dance on the razor’s edge.”

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