My Secret Life in an American Ashram

I’m as American as they come. I like being my own person and deciding what I’m going to make happen and making it happen.

I love SoCal and how a crisp white tee shirt with just the right amount of fade in the jeans looks on anybody. I love the way the light bounces off the Flatirons cliffs of Boulder in the thin morning air. I love self-congratulating New Yorkers, well, for a few days anyway. And I love starting a conversation mid sentence in the Midwest with the woman next to me in Nordstrom's or at the airport. I love Mick Jagger’s decades of irreverence toward institutions, although now he is one himself.

I love being free to come and go as I please, grabbing the car keys to run out to buy the herb, vitamin or whatnot that I just read online will increase my stamina ten fold and help me lose weight. Don’t ask me my opinion because I will be more than happy to tell you anywhere anytime.

And yet, I live in an ashram. I get up before the birds, I won’t even tell you what time because I don’t want to know myself.

Here, most of my day is scheduled by people younger than my kids, who may not get what it’s like to ache on any given day. The dinnerware is so utilitarian it's like something straight out of Cool Hand Luke. Going to town must be scheduled, and anyway it’s just a cross road between the “Curl Up and Dye Beauty Salon” and the Walmart. The best restaurant within 50 miles is Applebee’s.

Why would I do this? No one reared and bred on American individualism ever likes the answer. It’s because of my Guru. I’ve lost a lot of people right about there. Family in fact, some of whom assume the worst.

After years of a 'normal' life owning my own business, raising a family in the burbs, football and ballet, why? They assume I’ve given all my money to the him, which isn't true. I use it to buy gourmet cookies at Walmart and get my hair colored at Curl Up n Dye. They think I’m looking for an impossible utopia.

All of that is what I don’t value about being American. For all our freedom, we lack imagination and take the lazy way out so we don’t have to think too deeply, and actually live out the stereotypes the media props up in front of us. An emo girl is an emo girl, down to her polish color. A dude's a dude, down to his studied walk. A  businessman looks the part. Aren't those moms with short haircuts always the ones who wear pumpkin sweatshirts as scheduled in October?

Anyway, I live in an ashram because of my Guru. Why? Apart from my husband, who is here too and my best best friend, my guru has done more for me in this life than anyone else.  

I can count on two hands the times I’ve spoken to him, which where simple life-changing sentences of six to ten words each.

He’s fought me tooth and nail without uttering a word, to break down my definition of myself.  He’s wrenched self-deprecation out of my hands and I resisted unawares, wondering what was causing me to lurch and bang around so much.

When I was young, I was in love with Ruth Gordon’s feisty character in the classic 60’s movie, Harold and Maude. I wanted to be her when I got old. I’m not quite there, but getting close. I memorized one of her lines: “Oh, how the world dearly loves a cage.” I vowed never to love a cage. But I drifted into one, through years of worry about kids, money, reputation. I would have told you all the while I was free.

My guru opened up vistas inside me. He put a roof over my head and said as long as he had food to eat so would I. He asked in return that I make true inner freedom my priority.

I’ve traveled, met the most amazing people, in all the darks and lights that persona has to offer. I've seen people wear their agendas like suits of armor. Agendas are fine, if you realize you are have one. I put mine down once in a while and let the cool breeze of life touch me.

Mostly importantly I begin to realize, I’m a figment of my own imagination, a bird in an open cage, making my own prison out of thoughts. I would have died that way thinking I was free and what I thought about life was life.

I live in an American ashram. Am I happier than you? Probably not. I am better off than you? Definitely not. Are there people I live with who are hard to get along with?  Absolutely. Am I hard to get along with? I’ll give you a few numbers to call. Will I be here for the rest of my life? No friggin' clue.

Here, I get to watch and help a master offer human beings the best of themselves. When I don’t have all the answers, I sink into a cocoon of empty space that cradles me in a velvety embrace inside my own skin. It's not Nirvana, Samadhi, or Enlightenment, but my guru has gifted me by pointing the way out of the Socratic cave. Only a few years ago, I was walking the dog around the block carrying a heavy weight of imaginary melancholy on my back. Jai Guru!

About the Author

Christina Jennings has been in hot pursuit of the Truth with a capital "T" since the day she was sitting in the back seat of her mother's car and the light bulb went on and she started asking,  "How did we get here? Who put us here? How did all these roads and buildings get here?"  and "Why were we here?"  Since that day she looked endlessly under every rock, nook and cranny for the answers while living as normal and productive a life as possible, as corporate writer, then counselor,  mother and wife until one day many many years later, a real yogi literally stepped into her path at a golf resort; gave her one serious penetrating glance and she knew he knew. It turns out he does.

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