Samdarshan - Learnings from ESI
[Originally Posted by Christopher Lowman]
Between October, 2015 and January, 2017, I spent a cumulative total of 13 months living at ESI next to the Hriday Kunj, in one of the “Be” meditation huts. What unfolded in between turned out to be a somewhat unexpected and arduous inner journey—the potency of which I am just starting to get a glimpse of now, having left that sacred space a little over two weeks ago.
I want to share here what I consider to be the root of that experience. Root meaning the deepest learning, deepest insight, and deepest part of me that was affected by that journey. There are
dozens of things I could focus on but I want to try and give words to the primary bhav that feels to be of greatest personal significance.
First, a brief introduction for those that don’t me. In 1999, when I was still in college, I met an Ayurvedic doctor in London whose single treatment caused me to understand that everything we tend to seek in the outside world (security, happiness, love) can be internally derived. I intuitively understood that this tool I had just experienced, Ayurvedic medicine, was a path to that end and that by cleansing your inner dirt, as this medicine does, your full human potential can be expressed effortlessly. At once, I realized there was not a more urgent task than this. I traveled back to New York City (my place of birth) inspired to find an Ayurvedic doctor there and continue with this work. Knowing whatever I would be doing in the future would not require academic education or credentials, I even considered dropping out of college (but did end up graduating in 2001 from NYU).
Who am I? An intention to know myself and discover the “Kingdom of Heaven” described in the Bible. And the same could be said for all the time and activity that has past since. It’s all a reflection of this. After that experience in London, a path opened up, one that I have been walking in trust ever since. That path led me to the underground electronic music industry, to an intense corporate
consulting job, to California to be with my dad during his final days, to studying and practicing various methods of yoga and sadhana, to difficult relationships and dark nights of the soul, to Indian saints and Hindu temples, and then to Rwanda in E. Africa in 2009.
When I tell this story about reaching Rwanda, I usually invoke Joseph Campbell and his famous quote, “If you follow your bliss, doors will open where you would not have thought; and where
there wouldn’t be a door for anybody else.” In Rwanda, I found my bliss. There, I had the blessed opportunity to work in a therapeutic context with a number of young adults who were left orphaned and severely traumatized by the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. The heart breaking “survivor” stories I heard, seeing how my education in medicine could help, the exquisite sense of humanity I experienced from those with so little, and the joy of travel combined to form a question in my heart, “How can I do this kind of work full-time?”
In 2011, I followed my bliss. I quit my job, gave up my home, and shed myself of the majority of my possessions and took a dive into the unknown. I reached Ahmedabad and the Gandhi Ashram and the rest, you could say, is history. The doors that Campbell spoke of, started to open. Present day, I spend large swaths of time in India and Kenya, traveling back and forth in a play of sadhana and seva. After more than six years of living like this, I think I can safely say an answer to the question I asked in Rwanda has come. That’s enough about me. ;)
So what was the root bhav of staying at ESI all these past many months? What was the result of merging with the heart centre of that special space? As I spoke about in last year’s “laddership” retreat, the sanskrit term sam seemed to be following me around quite closely. My room at ESI is called Samagrata. An ashram I connected to intimately near campus is called Samdarshan, and the anchor of that space is called Swamini Guruma Samanand Saraswati.
Something was trying to inform me about essential sameness/absoluteness/completeness. I can be a terrible judger. Terrible. To the point I cause myself and others pain. That’s not a
quality that can hang around on the path to zero because it separates zero into one into two. When I judge, I separate myself (as superior) from the thing (usually a person or behavior) I’m
judging. Suffering and tension all around is the result.
At ESI, we sometimes have issues with behavior (mine included) that breaks our fairly strict honor code. What I witnessed time and time again — much to my awe — was how those issues
were given space to be, no different than our beautiful palms growing on the Dil Ki Rasta that appear to be “in the way” and requiring pruning. The issues were not immediately fixed. There
were no sit down talks and the like. Instead, they were given a place at the table—in certain instances, appreciated even.
I heard Jayeshbhai say recently, concerning the “administration” of ESI, that he is not interested in perfection. He’s not interested in correcting every single so called wrong. He said he’s most interested in people being in a state of joy as they work (imagine!). To me, that means increasing your tolerance for people’s idiosyncrasies. ESI is a space of cultivation or incubation, and Jayeshbhai similarly gives all its guests and residents space to cultivate themselves. Often that means allowing them to make mistakes or break the honor code.
In a powerful sit about a week before I left, he told me directly that he is always ready to love and serve whoever, in whatever shape they are in, no matter what they have done and that he leaves administration and interventions to “the space.” In that exchange — and this is not an exaggeration — I felt as if I had been given a glimpse of what God’s love is like. Universal.
Unconditional. Non-judgmental. Totally, 100% forgiving of every blasphemy. It was profoundly humbling knowing my own judgmental tendencies. Such was the root of my 13-month experience. Seeing (and receiving) this type of love and realizing that behind it lies samdarshan. Seeing all as the same. Seeing all as One, which means not believing in essential difference. Everything has its place. All the trouble in the world and in people has its rightful place. All the good, the same. Everything is playing its part. How can we, in our limited understanding of the whole, judge right, wrong, good, or bad? All labels dissolve. Nothing needs changing, nothing needs doing.
With this understanding more firmly established in my heart, I realize you can relax more. You can let go of any need you might have to intervene but, instead, let things and people be, and allow whatever power that makes the seasons change, handle the rest. In the meantime, our job becomes to enjoy, love, and serve… for all is well.
Though the seeds are still sprouting, I feel forever changed because of this unique experience and the love and I knowledge I received. It’s as if a stuck window has been opened and the wind and sun are entering again to do their healing rounds. I’ve even witnessed myself being more open and loving in instances where maybe that wouldn’t have been the case before. I would like to end with a bow of deep gratitude, as well as with a prayer that this new awareness enables me to become a more refined instrument of service to the world, as well as a kinder human being.