For the last 4 years, I’ve been very particular about taking a 2-3 week vacation every summer. Other than breaking the monotony and recharging, it always reinforced my belief in my work as well – no matter where you go, you come across sustainable communities, local cuisines, traditional knowledge, like-minded people, and markets where organic and responsible living has really exploded. So while the purpose of disengaging from work is achieved, new seeds also get sown. However, each time I’d come back from a vacation, I’d be exhausted. Exhausted from doing too much. Wanting to get as many experiences as possible, seeing as much as possible. Followed by a dull hangover of accepting the reality that it really is over, that last weeks.
Earlier this year a friend suggested Europe and I gave a reluctant maybe. I wanted something different. For a few years I’d been wanting to try out a meditation retreat for a few weeks in one of those naturopathy type centers. It just so happened that I got introduced to meditation towards the end of last year. I wasn’t really sure if it was actually helping me, or I was just me convincing myself that something was working. I was thinking of doing a workshop and happened to come across a TEDx talk by a spiritual teacher – Nithya Shanti. I have always criticized spiritual gurus’ and baba’s even before hearing them. But I resonated with what he was saying. What also worked was that he was young, spoke well, and wore normal clothes. His talk had nothing to do with religion, but it just pointed a path towards becoming the kind of person I wanted to be.
I was impressed. So I stalked him a little, and on his Facebook page saw that he was holding a weekend workshop in Delhi, what he calls Joyshops, a few months later. The description was vague, and the people who had hit ‘Attending’ were almost all double my age. I saved the event and thought I’ll take a call when Facebook reminds me. In the months that followed, I took a small vacation, and again came back exhausted. Whatever practice I’d built around mediation also went down the drain. I was finding it really hard to get back to it. Then a month later Facebook did remind me. So with a lot of skepticism, I made the payment, 2 days before the workshop. It took me maybe 15 minutes the first day to break out of the skeptical, judgemental attitude, and what a transformational experience it was.
Not only was my confidence in meditation back up, it seemed like all the silly problems in my life that would bother me everyday were gone. My outlook from complaining to myself about things and situations, really shifted to accepting things as they are and finding opportunities for growth. This of course wasn’t permanent! I haven’t been in an eternal and permanent state of bliss ever since. Yet what stayed was the confidence that I can deal with whatever comes my way. At the Joyshop, Nithya mentioned he was organizing a 2 week retreat in the summer, and instantaneously I decided I was going. If 2 days created such a shift, I couldn’t wait to see what 2 weeks would do.
For the next 3 months I tried to keep up with a lot of what I had learnt. As I was headed for the retreat, I was going with a lot of expectations. Nithya usually starts out his workshops asking people to think of what they want to gain from it. This time around my intention was 2 pages long. This in itself made me nervous. It took me a good 4-5 days to drop this, and be open to whatever experience I was having. The good thing was that because of this nervousness, I felt the need to reflect and write everyday, and that’s probably what finally enabled me to create that shift. By the end I had a very brief intention – to be able to have complete experiences, wherever I was, whatever I was doing. Do it with full attention, while being aware of what’s going on inside and outside, and without worrying about what will happen or what has happened. And gaining the confidence that I can continue all the good habits and practices I learnt post the retreat. It was only once I dropped most of my expectations that I started to make the most of the retreat.
The daily routine was quite intense. The first meditation starting at 530 am, and the day ending around 930 pm, usually followed by some board games that Nithya had literally a suitcase full of. So in the 2 weeks the maximum sleep I managed on any given day was 5 hrs. More sleep would have been nice but my energy levels were fine, while also exercising 1-2 hrs a day. Was it the atmosphere, the all vegan organic whole plant based food, the 3 hrs of daily meditation, or just my frame of mind, or all of it combined, I don’t know. But for someone so used to falling asleep post lunch when running on anything less than 7 hrs of sleep, this was quite incredible. And this was also a caffeine free retreat!
After having known Nithya for sometime, I knew I was going to be the anomaly, in terms of demographic. And I was slightly uncomfortable on day 1 because of it. But, one of my biggest learning at this retreat was that while we can start with all sorts of judgements about people, once we get to understand their perspective, their stories well, once we give them our full listening, we’re left with only empathy. And all judgements automatically drop. So in a way, I think it was amazing that I was the anomaly, which forced me to listen deeper, to make more of an effort to understand people. Made me realize how closed we are to offer empathy to those with whom we share the most intimate relationships, because of our expectations and pride, and I wonder what possibilities could emerge if we’re able to change that.
I’ll be slowly finding out over the months to come what all has shifted in me, and will continue to shift as I continue some of the practices. So naturally, it’s not possible to make a bulleted list of what all has changed. But one shift I’m really grateful for is instead of complaining about things, I’m finding it easier to look at the possibilities and accepting reality without questioning or cribbing. I’m finding it easier to be grateful for what I have, instead of looking at what I don’t. And even when not able to feel that gratitude, I can at least be grateful to myself for trying to be grateful. Gratitude really has emerged for me as one of the key emotions to develop to be happier. I’m also feeling immensely grateful to have chosen something as my field of work that has a deeper purpose attached to it. And that we’re just trying to make people become mindful towards and grateful for their food. Other than that, I’ve learnt that we need to be easy on ourselves. It’s ok to feel sad, angry, frustrated, actually it’s ok to feel anything. The purpose of meditation is not to eliminate negative emotions. The purpose is to become aware and watch them pass, without resisting. What we can control are our reactions, not how we feel. Get in touch with yourself, the feeling will reveal why it is there, and then you can move on. Our societal conditioning and education teaches us the opposite, it tells us that our strength is to bottle up whatever negative we’re feeling and just focus on success. I now feel my biggest task is to break out of this conditioning and learn how to fully feel.
So now I’m back. Do I feel relaxed? Absolutely. This time I don’t need a vacation from my vacation. Did this vacation also reinforce my belief in my work? Yes! It was all organic, vegan, and whole food, remember? And I think I’ve managed to score some new customers as well! However, I still have the hangover – I wish I had some more time there. I hope I’m able to continue making similar retreats part of every year, and highly recommend it to all! A lot of us think that such experiences are only for much older people or those who have had major setbacks. But I now feel, it’s never too early to start. If I had it my way, these practices would be a part of our curriculum from the day we enter the education system.
- Ashmeet Kapoor
CEO, I Say Organic