“We meet the people we meet for a reason,” welcomed Kiran, founder of Anahata Healing Arts Centre. “There are no accidents.”
The ashram in his home village of Ravandur is located about 70 kilometres outside of Mysore, the local hustle ‘n’ bustle city in the southern Indian state of Karnateka.
I too believe that the people you interact with are the people that you’re supposed to interact with – for better or for worse. Either they’ll open their hearts to you, or not. Anahata means the heart chakra in Sanskrit, one of the seven chakras that are believed to have a psychic-energy centre that align’s our body from our crown to our root – groin.
“I believe that everybody, all humans, have a right to heal,” Kiran continued as we were offered chai or herbal tea. “That is why Anahata is a donation-based retreat, which makes it the most affordable one in India. That way, you don’t have to be stressed about the cost. Pay what you feel you can.”
I arrived at Anahata for two reasons: the first, to volunteer in helping continuing the building and development of the community that Kiran envisions. The second was something that had detonated in my personal life – let’s leave it at heart-break. I needed a sanctuary to deal with it while wrestling Ego which wanted revenge.
We met the rest of the volunteers out in the backyard. On the website, there are photos of the farm, situated by a lake. The location on the online map also placed it on the shores of a lake. But before me lay a standard backyard, fenced in by the primary school next door and the neighbours on the other side.
Is he planning the farm here? I was confused. Are we in the right place? Is the farm somewhere else?
“Do you want to see the farm?” Kiran read my mind.
“Is it far?” I asked.
“Just through this gate,” he grinned, opening the wooden door and, “Watch your head,” ducking through the doorway.
I had to stop and not because I bumped my head. Before me lay toiled fields lining the sprawling grassy area that led right up to the shores of Ravandur Lake. Cattle fed off the grassy sprawl. Egrets fed off the cattle. There was a mud pit, from which the mud, mixed with cow-dung, was used to build an eco-dwelling with eco-friendly rooms based on the five elements: Earth, Wind, Fire, Water and Ether. It was as surprising as opening a small box and discovering the Universe inside it.
“We are planning an art therapy space for special needs children,” he explained pointing at a large area overrun with weeds. “And over here,” he pointed nearby the coconut plantation where Brahmini and Brown Kites circled the sky, “we are starting to build the senior community centre. Come, I’ll show you the yoga shala,” he led the way. “It’s just here, in the banana grove.”
I stood in the sacred space overlooking Ravandur Lake as butterflies fluttered about.
I began with helping to set up roof tiles on the roof of the eco-dwellings along with the other volunteers, chain-passing the tiles to the labourers. Lunch was at around 13:30 and it was different each day. Dinner was pongal, the same every sunset: beaten rice with lentils in a stew. All the meals are vegetarian and organic from seasonally grown vegetables on the farm.
At 05:30, or thereabouts, the village alarm plays from the temple down the road, awakening every one to catch the sunrise. I did so every day for the two weeks I was there. Either guided by the stars or my flashlight, I’d make my way to the east-facing yoga shala and meditate until I could feel the warmth of the sun.
The sun rose up like an orange ball, waking all cattle egrets, herons, cormorants, red-naped ibis, cranes, kites and storks. Dogs and chickens began their morning chatter. Macaque monkeys raided the outdoor common area along with a couple of fearless crows. Butterflies took to the air while caterpillars munched on leaves. Fruit bats returned from their nightly hunt. The mist lifted as the sun grew higher.
Once meditation was completed, I moved over to yoga. Hatha is practiced and lead by Kiran, but I was used to Ashtanga, a form of yoga I had recently learned. I then finished up with another half-hour of meditation before returning to the common area for breakfast and herbal tea.
On my second day I was contemplating joining the detox program when Kiran asked me suddenly, “I feel like you might benefit from the detox program. Would you like to join?”
Anahata also offers therapy like the Ayurveda-based detox programs, Ayurveda massage therapy, meditation and yoga.
“I just need to ask you that you don’t question our methods,” he furthered the deal. “Simply accept what is coming. Don’t ask when or how long is left. Acceptance is key.”
I accepted the terms and made no enquiries except for the names of the food and juices served. The first day was eating resinga, a sweet concoction of banana, coconut and honey. Lunch was a beetroot-carrot salad with shredded coconut and various spices and herbs. Dinner closed out with pongal. Between the meals, I was served with moringa juice and other juiced herbal plants, beetroot and carrot juices, coconut water and on the last day, a litre of warm salt water.
“This detox method is based on ancient Ayurveda medicine from centuries past,” explained Kiran.
“All the food and juices we provide are seasonal, and, of course, organic.”
And what a difference in the flavours! I took a bite out of a tomato and thought my mouth was going to melt. I was pulling up my own carrot and beetroots from the fields to be used in the juices.
I planted a tree after taking two days to dig through the quartz rock-based soil.
In the early mornings, after yoga, I’d walk through the village, Namastaying the friendly locals, hand to my heart as was the custom. I’d then walk down the bank of the tributary that fed into Ravandur Lake, getting buzzed by small birds, surprising cranes and egrets to take to flight. And a clichéd row of ducks.
I turned around and noticed Bettadapura Hill, a mini-mountain peak rising up behind the village just 15 kilometres away.
“It’s the Sidlu Mallikarjuna Temple,” explained one of the volunteers. “You’ll have to climb 3,600 steps to the Shiva temple at the top.”
So along with another volunteer, I did just that. Having been rising early for meditation and yoga on a daily basis for these two weeks, I could really feel the physical and mental change in me. I had slowed down. I was appreciating the moment and being present. I was reconnecting with myself.
I usually race up mountains and speed walk through treks. This time I was going to practice walking meditation, focusing on my breath and each individual step.
I’ve always noticed the small things in nature but this time, it was as though everything was standing out. The colours, the sounds, the smells. I could feel a sudden reconnection happening with myself.
Sometimes we don’t realise that we’ve disconnected from ourselves. Especially, in this machine-driven era of humanity. People are always looking for a place to recharge their phones, tablets, laptops, power banks. It’s one of the first questions asked in a public space, right after, ‘Do you have wifi?’ But we forget to recharge ourselves.
A lot of our health issues are caused by the anxiety and stress we allow our environment and surroundings to put ourselves through: work, the future, money, dwelling on past hurt and pain.
We forget to live today – and each day – for ourselves. We spend way too much time worrying about the one day that never comes – tomorrow.
Anahata doesn’t just mean the heart chakra, it is the heart chakra as mine opened up and received love from nature, her abundant food and light from the Universe, under whose canopy we’d all chill under in the evenings, star-meditating, watching Orion’s Belt drift across the sky as we caught shooting stars.
It’s hard to leave such a place, but it was time to test what I had learned and apply it to the hustle ‘n’ bustle of what we call, ‘The Real World’.
‘We meet the people we meet for a reason,’ Kiran’s voice echoed in my head. ‘There are no accidents.’