How far from here is a place for growth and learning? Where are the metaphysical centres? How far do I need to go to find out why I’m doing what I’m doing? How far before I rework my life and recondition myself. How far to change what needs to be changed? How do I know change what needs to be changed? How do I get to where can improvge on myself? These questions were rolling in my head.

Soon the rolling became a rumbling. Life moved things are such an amazing speed that I cannot but be enthralled by the beauty of it all. Why would I want to set time aside for study after so many years in the visual midia? Why should a normal [maybe not] and happy person like me question things so much/ what was I looking for? I was looking for something that lay buried. I could find the location myself by trial and error but a road map would definitely help. My mind took me to a healing center and school in New York. Then it took me to north India. Then to my surprise I found myself in Pondycherry. After contemplating travelling across a continent, a hundred miles from where I lived was not a bad deal at all.

The Ananda ashram or the International Center for Yoga education and research in Pondycherry is a lovely place. But the architecture did not match up to the acrs of open space I had in mind. Speak of my –mega movie mentalitay. Yet I discovered a lovely garden athat not many ventured into. My animal brain had already marked my territory there; not that anyone ever competed for it. It was my little space. I frequented it often, either to practice my “Hakaras”[a yogic exercise], my singig or to just be. The space opended up an expanse within.

The acharya, Meenakshi Devi and the few students she took each year did not have halos around their heads. Were they not supposed to wear long pointed hats! My stay there happened before exposure to Haryy Potter and I drew my inspiration from fairy tales. I met her week before the program started and I committed to staying for three months in the gurukula.

No leaving the ashram for typing out the assignments and buying some essentials. I was not looking to be entertined and I was finenwith it. I could always leave, I told myself. I did not have to endure anything. Especially after decided to keep a check on my masochistic side. I stayed on, not just for three months but for six, and also went back there for another month, and will go back there for regular stays. The road maps proved there were too well drawn out, to not move ahead.

The rhythm of the programme was set. The wake up call at 4.30 a.m, pooja, chanting, quiet sitting, hatah yoga and raja yoga practices, anatomy and physioogy, yoga chikitsa, mantra, Sanskrit, bhajans. Two meals a day and soup being the last meal at 6.00pm, not forgetting Satsangha from 7.00-9.30 pm. In between, we had to write our assignments and could choose to learn carnatic music and bharatnatyam. Amma, as Meenakshi Devi is lovingly called, took only five students that year. I was one among them. Now surely, I must learn to fly at the end of such intensive work. If not atleast read auras. But as the course progressed none of that seemed to matter.

My original questions were being taken care of. How do I work on myself, how do I grow? The adult in me took over the child, which was fascinated by magic. The magic of life was too strong to ignore. The discipline instilled and the ability to put time to good use were worth than any magic portion. The real magic lies in our ability to deal with time and space.

The more I distanced myself from my patterns and observed, the less I was caught up in my own dramas. I learnt to acknoledge the animal as well as the divine in me. I learnt to see the escapist as well as the realist in me. I thanked god for the greatest blessing of making me happy to be me. I left the ashram with more of myself. That was a wish fulfilled.

The Swayamthaka is a magic gem that grants the owner any wish. Many fake ones were demons disguised as the gem. A man who was looking for it saw the gem a few miles after he started his surch, and thought to himself, that it surely cannot be so. The precious gem could not be so close. So, he traveled many miles for many months and finally saw another Swayamthaka. This was the fake one. He thought that since it was so far from where he started, it must be real. He picked it up and was burnt too ash by the demon. That which is distant or unapprochable, though dangerous, seems precious.

In the story of the Alchemist by Pauto Coelho also, the boy travels the world before he is led back to the treasure, which was buried where he had started off. The Ananda ashram is the Swayamthaka that led me back where I started off. It helped me deal with the world in a more balanced way. Not escape it. It is a second home where I have been reconditioned. The qualities I have imbibed have become second nature. The morden gurukula [clan or family of the guru] provided a second family. The name I received there is a resonance of the qualities I have to bring forth from within. [Using the original version now] The guru’s family provided a better set of patterns and conditioning than my own. I was able to appreciate my own family better as it provided the training ground. I could see the continuity of consiousness. Both my homes were only a hundred miles apart.

Amma was a reflection of my own mother who was interested and invested her emotions in my evolution. Swamiji, are flection of my grandfather who instilled love for perfection. My dad a strong reminder of conflicting emotions and the grey areas I had to accept. All of them were a reminder of the forces that I had to grow fom and not escape or negate.

Each of them ultimately was a reflection of me. I had to see the qualities they possessed or that which was complementary in myself. The Swayamthaka gave me tha location of the treasure. Each time the location shifted to apoint closer to me. Dedication, discernment and discipline [as my dad says] will help me get there. I had scoffed many times at those who spoke words that were not reflected in their own lives. Now I take it is a blessing. I know it is the good in them that is giving me the message to find it in myself. The closer I aom to myself, the closer I am to my original home, the abode of the divine. That is where the real treasure lies within me.

I am thankful I did not doubt the authenticity of the Swayamthaka, because it was there without much hype. The Ananda ashram is nota populist place. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and the proof of the teaching is in my own growth and increasing clarity. The Swayamthaka or the wish-granting gem is sometimes so close, that we don’t see it. It lies there without any fanfare and we undermine it. We miss the diamond on the ground and go for the glass on display. Do we need to go around the world and run after the fantasy in our heads or can we learn to appreciate that which is close to us?