As I walked through the security check and into Sai Baba's Ashram I was hit with an instant feeling of:
"Why am I here?".
I'd walked into a kind of insanity it seemed with hoards of people scurrying about, just as many aimlessly wandering and the rest were enthusiastically engaged in a ritual of of some sort. It dawned on me very quickly that this was not a place where a warm welcome, a neat set of instructions, and a Hawaiian Lei are placed around your neck on arrival. I approached what looked like a nice German fellow who could see my confusion and he thankfully gave me some quick tips.
Did I want to stay in a bare concrete dorm room with 50 other women? because unless I was with 3 others I couldn't get a room in the Ashram. It didn't take me long to head back out of the gates to a hotel to ease my anxiety and get some rest.
The next morning I woke at 6am for the morning Darshan (A very long prayer/ chant/meditation time) followed by Bhajans (Music that everyone sings to and claps without moving). This happens twice a day and at Night Sai baba himself usually joins the proceedings, arriving in his bright orange wheel chair with a 4-5 man entourage.
The line up's for these sessions start about 2 hours before. The women are separated from the men in all aspects of the Ashram. When I joined my first line up I had no idea of what was happening...I turned up blind.
"Is this it?"
I noticed very quickly that I was the only person without a pillow to sit on, and my ass was already screaming obsenities at me. It was too late to go and come back .
Also, you cannot take water into the temple or food or anything but a small purse with your passport and maybe your money and your keys. They give out water in cups for the women, not the men, but everybody drinks from the same cups. I never drank from them. I just told myself:
"You are not thirsty! You are over-Hydrated!"
It seemed to me that this place was also very trendy, a place to be seen and involved in, a place where people who want to be saved come, but they don't necessarily want to give anything in return. The women were fighting over seats and their places in the lines. Some were never happy. All just wanted to see Baba, and would do anything to be close to him. I saw obession all around me, and greed...and a lot of drama!
After about 1 hour to the hatred of the women around me I got up and went to the back to sit in a chair ment for older people or the injured/disabled, and then I left shortly after that.
I wandered around the Ashram for a bit (This place is like a small city with everything you need...Bookstore, supermarket, 3 food canteens, accomodations..the list goes on) and then I got lost. Finding help was challening, one women turning up her nose saying "NO ENGLISH!" and waved me off.
Lets just say when I found my way out, I went to the nearest Internet cafe to book my flight out of there.
Then I started hearing voices...
I was shocked! It was an old friend "Rhet" who I worked with at the Boathouse Restaurant in Horseshoe Bay, Vancouver, about 9 years ago. He had arrived 5 days before me and was staying at the Ashram for a month or so. A warm happy face was just the elixer I needed! And in the conversation to follow I realised that everyone goes through the same thing when they arrive. It's all about taking care of yourself and being able to focus amidst the mania. Seeing Rhet made me hold off on the flight and give it another try.
I bought a pillow and went to the night Darshan with my expectations flattened on the road behind me and managed to find an appreciation for where I was. Every morning at 5am Rhet and I would go to the Tree that Sai Baba planted outside the Ashram for meditation and quiet, and we would talk about our experiences which was so helpful. I came to feel the power that comes from a mass common focus, no matter what the motivation. After 5 days and some enlightening experiences and a new understanding of how much ego plays a hindering role in everything and how resitance keeps us from walking forward, loving life...I left...with my own driver..
...Another awesome man named Rudy gave me his riveting life story within the 2 hour journey...I'll save that for the book :)...
...and caught a plane to Goa.