If you have ever wondered what it is like having a Spiritual Guide and how spending time at an ashram can support your spiritual growth, then you will find a visit to Blue Star headquarters in Claxton Bay, Trinidad to be very interesting. I find that being in a disciplined environment, doing seva, which is offering selfless action for the welfare of the community, and having the ongoing personal guidance of the Guru can be so beneficial.

The subtle ashram experience

Having spent a lot of time at the ashram, I find now that I am in preparation for the annual 40 Days retreat, I sink right into that experience even though I am no longer physically there. As we draw closer to March 25th, it seems there is a web of energy building up. It is as if the ashram is in me. The atmosphere feels charged with an exquisite, delicate, distinct “something.” It feels refined in some ephemeral way that is hard to put one’s finger on. It is the same feeling I get whenever I step into the ashram grounds. It immediately envelops me.

During the 40 Days, I have many encounters with the Guru through the live streamed programs. His presence seems to embrace me in an enlivening field; that look, that smile penetrates to the core of my being. His words are always profoundly spiritual, reflecting where I am in the deepest part of myself in that moment, and as I listen closely I hear how I can move to a more beautiful state. His talks and meditations feel deeply personal, as if he is talking directly to me.

Learning from the Guru

Whether I have a personal interaction with him or we are in a group setting like a guided meditation or chanting session, as I listen to him and settle in, I can feel some change in who I am and how I am experiencing both myself and all around me. It creates in me a desire to hold on to this feeling. But how do I do that?

In the beginning, it can be so difficult to remember the words he says as the inner experience seems to supersede any kind of articulation. But if I don’t focus on the words, then the only way to get into that elevated state is to be in his presence. His words tell me how to create that experience for myself so I like that, as I want to be independent.

We each need to find a way to pay attention to his words. I have trained myself to do it, first by writing notes while he is speaking. Then I go back and re-read these notes several times. After a while, I get used to the type of language he uses and it is easier to remember just by listening.

I begin to notice that I always perk up when he talks about certain themes. Then I hone in on a particular phrase that seems to ring like a bell inside me. For example, he said “The way to break deep conditioning is to rise to a transcendent space, to see a pattern from a place of intuitive awareness and no judgment.”

My understanding is “deep conditioning” refers to habits that are so ingrained that they come up automatically and seem out of my control, despite my strenuous efforts to change them. I don’t quite know what that “transcendent space” is, but I am going to assume it is the experience I have when I am with him, or the experience I had when the phrase caught my attention.

Now what to do with this new information, I don’t know how to act on it. So what I do is write it down on a slip of paper and all through the day, I take it out and read it. I just keep doing that for as long as it takes till inspiration comes to me about how to move forward. I think this is how I create the intention to act on it. Perhaps this is what Guru means when he says we need to “arm the subtle energy body before we act.”

Setting 40 Days intentions

This year the theme of the 40 Days retreat is “Lifting Maya’s Veil – a Guide to Self-Transformation”. When I met Sri Vasudeva in 1994, one of my first questions to him was about “maya,” what is real and what is illusion? I was seeking constructive advice on how I could live a spiritual life and what that would mean. I was then, and still am, very attracted to self-transformation, as it gives me a feeling of empowerment.

So I am thinking deeply about what my intentions will be as I enter these highly charged days. To come up with my intentions, I think of what I want for myself and then ask what is preventing me from achieving it. That process makes it clearer for me to see what I would like to focus on. To motivate myself, I have short-term and long-term intentions. The short term ones are easier and faster to achieve. This is important for me, because I need the momentum to help me to tackle the more challenging aspects of my intentions.

I know myself well enough to know that I will make consistent efforts. So another important aspect is to look out for the signs of progress. Every day there is something to celebrate, even if it is that I kept the intention in my mind. In this way my inner world stays optimistic. Every step counts!

Every year during the 40 Days, I set one intention that is very challenging. So to start with, I focus on being able to embrace it as a possibility. This is the toughest part for me. Knowing that, I am more patient and gentle with myself.

Using the discipline as a support

Once I set my intentions, then I think about how I will use the discipline of the 40 Days to help me fulfill them. As I start my day with the chanting of the Guru Gita, I allow myself to be immersed in the sound of the Sanskrit mantras, savouring the flavour that every musical instrument brings to the kirtan. Consequently I am alert and vibrantly ready for the morning meditation and inspirational talk.

At the beginning of the meditation, I usually listen closely to the Guru’s guidance, following his clear instructions. It seems as if he is aware of every distraction in my space before I notice them and he offers enticing, easy to follow suggestions that take me deeper within. Sometimes I am drawn so much inside that I no longer hear his voice, then I follow whatever is pulling my attention in my inner world. Every meditation is unique.

The talk that follows has so many layers of meaning, as the Guru seems to open his space so that the lived experience is possible to catch. So I try to listen not just to his words, but also absorb the subtle transmission as much as I can.

During the sacred conversations, I experience the questions as deeply personal. I listen to the Guru’s answers, keenly alert for that inner resonance that tells me to take note. These are the words that I need to pay attention to in order to fulfill my intentions.

This year I am entering the 40 Days, seeking to “live in every moment in the awareness that it is my Infinite Source having an experience in and through me.” I pray for the blessings and guidance of the Masters in fulfilling my desire.