As the dusty and crater filled road sweeps around, edged with thick green forest an outcrop of buildings emerges, opening to a carpark with an OM symbol on a signpost.
Kangaroos laze like families on vacation, noses twitching, passing the time. A kookaburra starts laughing.
Burning wood and the warm scent of oranges drift to meet the nose. A plate of orange peels sits on the wood-fired heater. Shoes are removed and the next wave of smells drifts in– spices, cumin, herbaceous and welcoming. A faint waft of incense is in the air. However, it is not strong. It is an element.
We are greeted warmly.
The kitchen to our left is a bustle of activity. Not noisy. There is a busyness, but I observe this is a quiet calm busyness. There is no hurry. No eye contact.
Clean, crisp, worn and trusted, are the words that bubble up in my mind.
It is raining this day. Gently, then heavily. While we wait for our host, we sit in a mud brick temple, glass hobbit like windows peeking at the greenery outside. Beads and ancient symbols decorate the walls, and the rain falls down like a soothing pitter-patter- Why is rain so soothing?
We go for a walk amongst the abundant market garden, a destination for global specialists, botanists, and horticulturalists.
Every section planted and plotted as it has been done for thousands of years continents away. A gardening hut sits at the entry of the garden. Inside are saved tins containing harvested seeds, 50 years worth. Heirloom seeds. A trove full of jewels. Do these seeds capture the genetics of lost nutrition? A lost nurturing of the passionate gardener and gatherer of goods?
It feels tribal here.
Why am I here? A dear friend and mentor recommended the Ashram to me at a time of turmoil 2 years ago. My experience is this is a place outside the hurry curry of the world. A beautiful bubble where you can sleep, you can rest and learn. Learn so much… How not to rely on the feedback from people. How to be on your own in your own thoughts in a space where it is perfectly acceptable not to interact on any level other than- where do I wash my dish? No pressure. Acceptance from that which comes from within whispers.
Some people welcome it, some brave it, some reject it.
Sometimes our inner noise is confounding and deafening, we need the hectic of life to fill the void, so we don’t need to have a conversation with ourselves. Those convos can be deep. Too deep. Life changing deep. Or it can be a gentle getaway for those seeking quiet.
Every time I go there if it is for morning tea and a meditation session or a 3-day stint- something of incredible value is gleaned. Unpacked gently and quietly in the comfort of beautiful nature.
You will not find cappuccinos or fancy yoga gear. Comfort, ease, and lack of adornment are at the face level of this special place.
Today I get to sit and palaver by a fire with Swami Atmamuktananda, lovingly named Atma by those that know her.
She has returned this year from the Camino, a 330 km, trek – 20 km a day. A pilgrimage thousands of people from across the globe take each year to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. Many follow its routes as a form of spiritual path or retreat for their spiritual growth. Camino Information Click HERE
The mantra she spoke every day was for peace and wellbeing.
So how did this delightful human become a Swami?
After traveling the world as a young woman for 7 years across continents and oceans, Atma returned to Australia looking for something different. 10 months into running a vegetarian restaurant in Perth a Yoga person came to visit. Life was never the same again. Atma was seeking completeness that she could not find in the Western World. She traveled to India and stayed for 10 years. Her journey leads her in 1976 to become the caretaker of the Rocklyn Ashram. India’s sister Ashram in Daylesford Victoria.
42 years later here we are.
In India the positive impact Ashram life has on its local community is immeasurable. Tonnes of rice and vegetables are provided for locals, children can come and eat whenever they like, distribution of medical supplies and blankets as well as building houses and shelter are just some of the services provided by the Ashram.
The wageless life of a Yogic Life is filled with gifts says Atma. She is looked after by having a roof over her head, warmth, access to good food, and fulfillment. There is no superannuation, no medical but there is contentedness. The Ashram is self-sufficient and relies on the caretaking of its inhabitants and visitors to make it available for the general public to enjoy.
So what is a Yogic lifestyle? Is it sweating it out in our Lorna Janes, bending ourselves into pretzels and stretching those muscles? Well, this is a western interpretation of the original lifestyle practice made up of many facets that began thousands of years ago, but to give you the very simplified version-
Hatha Yoga is primarily concerned with bodily purification practices which tranquilize the mind and discipline the body, based on the principle that one can become aware of higher states of consciousness by manipulating the different forces and systems in the physical body. Hatha Yoga considers the body as the temple of the soul and as such should be kept in excellent condition.
Mantra is chanting or repetition of sounds which have an effect on the mental and psychic consciousness of man. This is a powerful way of approaching meditational states, for the mind is rendered calm and at the same time concentrated on the mantra.
This is the yoga of dynamic meditation or action performed with meditative awareness. Karma Yoga is doing work with complete awareness but without attachment to the fruits or outcome of the work. The work is not the means to attaining some reward, payment, etc. It is selfless work. It is work in which one loses identity with one’s ego. One merely becomes an instrument. When visiting the Ashram, it might be gardening, preparing vegetables, folding blankets or sweeping the paths. Think Mr. Miagi wipe on, wipe off.
It goes on from there with various practices, but for the beginner, these are the daily practices at the Ashram.
As a Christian woman I have never felt my beliefs have been at threat when visiting the Ashram and in fact, my experience has been quite the opposite. I ask Swami Atmamuktananda why this is so.
“Yoga is not a religion, and it need not be a threat to any belief system, because it is a science of the body-mind lifestyle. It is science, not religion. People become stressed and need a place to stay, a place with a structure and simplicity, a place where personal reflection can be heightened when there is no life clutter. There is nothing personal at the Ashram, it is open and unobtrusive. There is a level of comfort where all is provided, a nurturing comfort zone if you can allow yourself to let go and accept the environment for what it is- you can experience Ashram life and the gift it has to offer.”
“This offers stability and routine each day, there is a regularity to daily life, of re-establishment we all need. There’s no having to rush, everything is there for you. These practices and this environment allows you to enhance whoever you are.”
The simplicity of the Rocklyn Ashram is no accident. There are no televisions, radios, and phones are respectfully asked to be left switched off.
“Not having the senses so wildly exaggerated as they are in the outside world helps to see within. Externalisation makes people stressed and confused, the outside world bombards people with all of the noise, this is not natural to our state of being. So we are honored to provide this space in Victoria for people of all denominations and walks of life to come and practice Yogic living to help rebalance and harmonize themselves. People tend to seek acquirement instead of peace, and this can be a very lopsided journey. A Yoga lifestyle helps to restore and rebalance this,” says Atma.
The Rocklyn Ashram attracts schools, VCE students, Backpackers, CEOS, Doctors, Nurses, Mothers, Fathers, Grandparents and Retirees, every walk of human has passed through those doors from around the world.
I ask Swami over all of the years what is the biggest issue facing people right now in 2018.
“Financial status and image, we find it very difficult to detach from these things. Never before have I seen such an attachment to physical appearance, an impermanent state.”
It has been my understanding of the philosophies of Buddhism and some Hindu practices that we need to “not attach” and practice detachment to gain insight and enlightenment.
Atma says “we cannot avoid attachment, we are human beings and it is is in our nature to attach, and there is nothing wrong with this. We get into trouble when detachment comes into being. We don’t know how to detach. The detachment of external factors can cause problems in paradise. We attach ourselves to things of impermanence- knowing very little about our realness, and it is when these things disappear, it leaves us in trouble. We don’t understand where our central self is and we depend on that impermanence.”
I consider this. It is easy to fall in love, but not always easy to detach from it.
We love life, but we find grief and dying a problematic concept. I took up smoking easily as a teenager but found quitting difficult. My eyesight was expected, something I took for granted but losing it was detaching from this natural expectation that I should be able to see. My life is mine to keep…Hmmm.
What is the funniest thing to witness at the Ashram I ask Atma because for me it was the abundance of porridge and fruit that made people fart in Yoga class-torture for me to not burst into idiotic giggles over?
“Sometimes the Mantra process can really bring joy up in people, or they have experiences where joy, grins, and laughter may erupt or anger. People can become quite funny when they get cross. It is funny the expectations people sometimes have, their interpretation of things can cause a reaction which can at times be amusing.”
So is there life after death Swami?
She smiles warmly, “There are pointers to indicate a continuation, there are thoughts and beliefs that there is a proposed system of continuance. Don’t you ever get the feeling you are picking up where you left off Kirsten?”
Yes, I do Swami, yes I do.
The Ashram offers a range of retreats to cater for everyone’s circumstances, from:
day visits to weekend or midweek courses,
personal time out stays and
retreats of one week,
one month, three months or one year.
Visitors require no prior experience in yoga and are encouraged to participate in the general daily program with the Ashram residents. The program includes a morning yoga class, Karma Yoga (a practice of awareness), Yoga Nidra (a deep relaxation practice), evening meditation and varied evening programs.
From Glam tenting at $25 a night to full ensuite stays at $105 per night, all inclusive of meals and accommodation. The Ashram has affordability options for everyone. My favorite is the morning tea, meditation session and delicious lunch for $20 held daily if you are visiting the region it is a beautiful day visit to get acquainted.