Why go on a pilgrimage and disrupt your life?

By Jeanne Heileman, Yoga Teacher Trainer

Maha Kumbha Mela - yoga retreat

We are on a journey to experience something really unique. The Maha Kumbha Mela is an event that takes place ever 12 years in Allahabad, India, and brings spiritual practitioners from all over the world together, creating a powerful vibration of intention and positivity for the planet. There is a large group of us (around 200) who have come from all over the world to attend this event and experience some of the auspiciousness of simply being in India, the homeland for yoga and meditation. We chose to leave our families, loved ones, our jobs and comforts, to witness and participate in this rare opportunity. We have traveled across the globe and through the rawness of India to get here. This is an experience of a lifetime.

To be honest, this journey to India has been rough on many of us. Amongst the members of our group, some have arrived without their luggage and still do not have it, some are battling the flu, many experienced cancelled flights and difficult delays (24 and 48 hours), most of us encountered shock from the noise and dirt in Delhi, and all of us went through a 12-hour bumpy, hot, bus ride to the ashram. Here at the ashram we are basically camping. The situation is really nice for camping, but it is really, really cold and we are outside basically all the time. Those who didn’t bring enough layers and proper equipment are suffering physically. Those who are gluten-free or vegan are being challenged to find anything they can to eat. Those who are addicted to hot, sweaty asana are wondering where and how that will happen as their muscles start to soften and the squirms in the body increase. Food, drink and the important chai tea is only available at certain times and if you go back for more, there may not be any more. Many are being pushed to their edge. This certainly is not the Four Season. So, WHY are we here? Why didn’t we just go to a resort? Why would we pay for this? Why would we open ourselves to encounter obstacles when life itself is hard enough?

Leaving Your Comfort Zone

The discomfort that each of us is experiencing in our own ways on the outside is symbolic to the discomfort that we encounter when we sit down to meditate. When we sit to go inward we often struggle with the various obstacles of our mind. We might hit roadblocks, bumps, run out of gas, feel achy, we could get lost, and then begin to doubt or change our direction/destination. Leaving one’s comfort-zone is very, very difficult. How we handle the challenges on the outside reveal to us how we handle those on the inside. Thus, each of us is watching and observing our reactions to the individual obstacles, aware that our reactions are very instrumental to the growth that we all desire. That alone is a value of the trip; we are shredding our limitations to grow as beings and as souls.

The Himalayan Institute is taking us on the external journey. That, they can do. They are doing an amazing job to ensure that we are fed clean and delicious food, provide us with very impressive accommodations (given the environment), arrange for us to see very meaningful points of interest, and guide us how to function in a foreign country. If we listen to their advice and show up at the scheduled times, we get to see the most amazing things. During this journey, they can’t prevent every hardship, but they try to ease the suffering from sickness, missed luggage, freezing cold or any other unexpected events. Their hearts are so big. We are guided and taken, but we must pay attention and show up to get the most out of this excursion.

This outer pilgrimage is a symbol of what we hopefully are doing, or trying to do, on the inside. The road to the Higher Self is like traveling across the world. Long, hard, challenging, and once you are there, very foreign. The attachment to specific comforts on the outside is a gentle guide to what we are holding on inward. Our inner attachments are obstacles that prevent the journey toward the True Self from reaching the most beautiful regions. Once we are aware of our limitations, we can begin to clear them, using the tools from the teachings to make the travel easier.

On any major journey, it’s wise to get a guide or do some research to know what we will encounter. This helps us translate the new experiences so that we can appreciate them more. One could go see the Taj Mahal and just walk around. The whole structure is magnificent and breathtaking, which could be sufficient for some. One could take photos to remember the experience and later show friends proof of the experience. However, by taking a guided tour, or doing some research prior, one is able to see so much more than the outer layer. The more details we learn, the more valuable the experiences become for we see more than one layer.

Taking On The Inner Journey Towards The True Self

When we take on the inner journey/pilgrimage towards the True Self in meditation, getting a guide helps us maneuver through the obstacles that will arise from the travel. It eventually it is helpful to have someone point out the road blocks, translate the signs, give warnings and help us see the beauty past a first layer. The Himalayan Institute, through the loving guidance of Panditji, serves as our inner tour guide so that we can get the most out of the inner pilgrimage, regardless of any obstacles that may arise. It may be bumpy, we may feel like we are lost, but they are giving us the tools and the wisdom to hold us on the path, especially at the uncomfortable moments.

With each return to a foreign region, it becomes easier to adapt to the surroundings and blend into the community. Familiarity decreases pain. We also gain the benefit of increased friends, experiences and wisdom that makes our life more fulfilling. Personally, I think this is how you become rich. The more we travel inward, the more friends we make with the fragmented parts of ourselves, the more experiences we have and the greater wisdom we obtain. THIS is how we become fully rich. Therefore, I go now and take my own journey/pilgrimage inward. This outer excursion serves as a mirror on so many levels to help me continue inward, past the rugged parts, to the greatest beauty.

By Jeanne Heileman, Yoga Teacher Trainer