24 hours in an Ashram in San Francisco

For those of you who know me, it probably wouldn’t be a surprise to find out that one of the things I am interested in finding out more about, is the experience of spending some time in an ahsram. After all, yoga every day, vegetarian food, meditation.. no other worries – definitely has appeal and I am curious by nature. Now ideally this ashram would be in India, but given that I am in San Francisco, and it IS the hottest month in Nicaragua right now, I plan to spend some time staying at the ashram right here in the middle of the city.

The building is very impressive. A very old but well maintained four story Victorian mansion a top a hill, with a glorious view over the city and a green park nearby. My room is a tiny closet sized room, just big enough for a bed, attached to the prayer room where most of the yoga classes and meditations are held. This means that I cannot access the room during classes, I either have to be in or out. The view from the little window right next to the bed is spectacular. The prayer room is pretty nice as well – the top floor with wooden beams and circular windows.

Now, I am not one of those people who quit things easily or early, but I start to plot my escape pretty soon after my arrival. There is a rigidity that is not feeling right. Too much ritual and prayer for my taste. Prayer before eating, prayer after meditation. This is starting to feel restricting, more like my high school experience (where prayer was a daily occurrence.) Yoga is compulsory for guests staying in the house – suddenly the great pleasure of yoga is diminished because I have to do it, it’s no longer my choice. Lights and quiet time are at 10. What? No debauchery here, my friend Amanda had warned me, and she was very correct on this one. After dinner with Josh and Krista I find myself fumbling to unlock the doors of the mansion at 10.30 and then sneaking into a large dark and very sleeping Victorian house. My evening is usually just starting at 10! As I lie in my very freezing-as-a-fridge cold room – the heat is turned off at night and I am in my clothes and socks, with all four blankets and my nose is still ice cold. I am trying to fall asleep at a ridiculously early hour. While shivering I dream about my escape the next day. It’s early to rise as I hear the bong outside my room announcing the 6 a.m. morning meditation. I am cold and tired. No way am I getting up, but nonetheless I have the feeling of being trapped in my room listening to the chanting and to swamis voice from the casette. He is talking about accepting black people, and how we should give them chocolates and a cup of tea. (Man these tapes are pretty outdated…) and its stiff stuff for 6 a.m. I am tempted to shout “hear, hear!”

As soon as it’s safe, I carry my bags down three flights of stairs, leave my money on the desk with a sweet note, the keys and take my backpack and my little suitcase on wheels and escape out of the ashram, into freedom on the streets of San Francisco. I literally run down the hill with pure joy it feels so good. I get into a cab and he asks me where I live. I tell him Nicaragua, and he tells me he is Nicaraguan and moved here 30 years ago with his parents to escape the civil war. Lots of mucho gustos, hugs and a good tip and he drops me off at a nearby green and reasonably priced hotel. Yes!! I drop my bags and do what any girl would do in such a situation, but not something I have done very much of in the last nine months, or generally enjoy that much… I go shopping! And I have a huge latte and chocolate croissant in a cafe that sure feels like Paris. Then I walk to the MOMA and gorge myself some more on Diebenkorn and the gang of Bay area painters and a fabulous photography exhibit. Life is good. And now I know… the ashram is not for me, not in San Francisco anyway.

2 thoughts on “24 hours in an Ashram in San Francisco

  1. Kim

    Peta, good for you for doing what you know works for you and leaving the rules behind! I’m pretty sure adding rules is where spiritual practice went awry a long time ago 😉

  2. Anonymous

    What interesting insight. An ashram is to find freedom not entrapment, it sounds like you were entrapped and you did the right thing by leaving now you can have a real experience.