Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Swami-ji and More Symptoms

I don't know how I dragged myself to meditation at 6 a.m. the second day at Yogaville, but I did, and followed it with an Integral Hatha Yoga class. It took me a while to warm of to Integral Yoga, but now I adore its perfect blend of active and receptive poses, of movement and stillness, of asana, chanting and meditation.

After Hatha class came a bountiful breakfast of oatmeal, fruit and yogurt but no coffee, no caffeine of any kind, and in my undiagnosed fatigue state (one of the symptoms of ovarian cancer), I was a slave to the stimulation of caffeine.

The headache started soon after breakfast, persisted through the morning, hounded me through lunch. I took the Ashram Tour to see all the sights, the most memorable of which was the awesome overlook of the James River where you can see the Lotus Temple with its Butterfly Lake and the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.

I now have a great appreciation for the art of the siesta, but at that time, napping was not in my repertoire. After the tour, however, I lay down and didn't wake up till 5 p.m. I missed the brief opening of the coffee shop - no fix for me - as well as the afternoon Hatha class and felt cheated and grumpy, very grumpy. I was beginning to think that maybe I was Depressed.

Depressed would have been preferable to cancer.

We had another wonderful meal that night, which I enjoyed despite my splitting headache. We chatted with other pilgrims, then came back to our room and rallied for the evening program of satsang (teaching by the guru) where there was a short address by Sri Swami Satchidananda, and more chanting and ceremony.

Plus, there was a visit from another swami who looked just like Satchidananda. They were two guys with flowing white hair and beards, sort of dark, skinny Santa Clauses in orange dresses.

I drank in Swami-ji's presence, somehow knowing, despite my fuddlement, that I was in the presence of a great being, one who transcended all appearances and all doubt. I felt a brief cessation of my anxiety although the ache still pounded in my skull like an unwelcome wake-up call.

Betsy and I left Yogaville the next day, still too caught up in our own personal discomfort to fully appreciate the experience and the privilege of being in Swami-ji's presence. He left his body in 2002 and is entombed at Yogaville in a shrine called Chidambaram where his presence is honored, cultivated and felt.

We journeyed back to Winston-Salem a little disappointed and not particularly rested. We'd expected more of a spa or resort experience, I think. We hadn't understood what it means to be in an ashram that is more about spiritual activity and discipline than exercise.

But my long nap and unusual headache strengthened my resolve to find out what the heck was happening to me. Soon after that, I went to see Dr. Rawlings, and my journey to diagnosis began in earnest.

Next Week: Sonogram and Sweat Lodge

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Let Me Take You to ... Yogaville

I can't help thinking the name is funny. It sounds made-up, something that might show up in Doonesbury or in a T.C. Boyle novel - like Drop City or Funky Town.

But Yogaville is the real deal, a wonderful community of wise people and wisdom-seekers, nestled (sorry, Fran) in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, about 45 minutes from Charlottesville

I have been there now more times than I can recall, and I gratefully call Yogaville (Satchidananda Ashram) my spiritual home, but my first visit at a time when my illness was still undiagnosed gave little promise of the glorious relationship that the future held.

And it's interesting that I was ill and didn't know it the first time I went there, precisely because of what my relationship with Yogaville has become. But that is now, and this was then, and we're talking about "then."

Then, my best friend from Hilton Head Island, Betsy Spencer, and I were heading to Yogaville for a retreat from our demanding newspaper jobs; she was in advertising, and I was in news-gathering.

On this hot, dusty Labor Day weekend,  the drive from Winston-Salem seemed interminable. It's about 3 1/2 hours, but the first time you drive it, you really think you'll never get there, that you'll be lost in the Virginia woods, abducted by rednecks, or just slowly succumb to the weariness of endless, winding mountain roads - beautiful but endless.

The ashram is about 45 minutes away from U.S. 29. It is secluded among rolling hills, deciduous woods and both well-kept and untended farmland. On your drive, you'll see shacks and mansions, thoroughbreds and mules, all in testimony to Virginia's agrarian past and present.

I'm told that the locals at first had concerns about the white-bearded, saffron-robed swami who moved onto the land and began building homes, schools and a magnificent if slightly bizarre-at-first-glance pink lotus temple in the middle of their pretty-conservative community. But the ashramites  - a ragtag group of hippies, Yankees and construction workers (my brother Jacob was among them) - began volunteering at a charity in Buckingham a few miles away, and it wasn't too long before they all began co-existing harmoniously.

Betsy and I arrived at Sivananda Hall, the ashram's communal kitchen and dining room, and were met by a swami who seemed a little annoyed at having two slightly harried and discombobulated travelers washed up on her tranquil shore. But she led us over to guest services, got us checked in and sent us to our dorm room.

Oh my god! There was no lock on the door, but as it turned out, we had a giant room all to ourselves, and there wasn't a lot of activity on the hall.

Not that I needed to be worried about noise and being able to sleep in the dorm, since what I really couldn't seem to do was wake up. I was trudging around in a funk and still baffled as to why.

We went to a hatha Yoga class that I thought was too easy - too much chanting and meditating and not enough asana - but was probably just about right for my skills and energy level. Then to my first of many fabulous meals in Sivananda Hall where we chatted with other women from places like Baltimore and Taos.

I went to sleep at about 8 p.m. - unbelievable - and didn't wake up till 5:30 a.m. when a white-haired female swami came down our hall playing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" on a violin.

If we hadn't had enough clues, that did it. Clearly, Betsy, we're not in Winston-Salem anymore.

Stay tuned. Next week: In the sweet presence of Sri Swami Satchidananda and the pain of caffeine  addiction.