I'm standing in my bank in Balham, SW London. All around me are signs saying how they want to help, how they want to listen to my problems, how they care about my future and how they can enhance the present. Everybody is smiling and calling me Mr Smith, this is great, who needs yoga?
One month earlier I'd made my first trip to Munger, to visit the Bihar School of Yoga, an ashram that holds huge significance to the Satyananda Yoga Centre in London. Swami Satyananda was the guru of Swami Pragyamurti, founder of SYC London over forty years ago, and not a week goes by without Swami Pragyamurti quoting his wise words and inspiring actions.
The trip to Munger was long (as most pilgrimages are), and my first impression of the Ashram was the build quality. I'd like to be more interesting at this moment, but as a construction worker I can say, hand on heart, the construction projects in Jamalpur didn't inspire confidence. The Ashram, however, had beautiful lines, well kept gardens and was totally spotless. The whole campus is ergonomically perfect.
Any worries or trepidation I felt quickly evaporated as I was given the keys to my room, number 108, the auspicious number. I'd come to the Ashram, primarily, to connect with the Guru. How can some bloke in India have any bearing on my life? Why should I listen to him? After five years practising with Swami Pragyamurti these were the questions I needed answering. Luckily, my parents have brought me up to respect other people's houses, so whilst I still had an inquisitive, slightly cynical outlook, the mantra I brought with me was: don't complain, don't fall out with anybody and don't get sick.
After two days rest, and getting over the initial shock of cold showers and how attractive a bald woman can be, I threw myself into seva. The work is constant, and necessary, it needs to be to keep this place going, but it's also a blessing. The reality of the Ashram, as I quickly discovered, is that you are mollycoddled; you are cared for in a way that gives you freedom to walk a spiritual path. A confrontation with one's ego in life is inevitable, but with the structure and support of the Ashram this process is fast-tracked. It's a joy to visit a place that strips you of your usual day-to-day responsibilities and allows one to see the person they really are. It's an added bonus when the person turns out to be of an agreeable persuasion. This is where I found my Guru.
Now don't get me wrong, I found some seva challenging, decorations isn't in my skill set, but through the seva, and through the people I met, I realized: the human spirit can never be broken whilst people are prepared to renounce everything. That particular gem came to me while cleaning the prasad off the toilet floor somebody with questionable awareness had left for me.
Swami Satyananda, by his own admission, was a tough guru and Swamiji is beyond focused. The ongoing work at Paduka Darshan shows that his vision will be achieved, and a new breed of sannyasa will emerge to face the difficult challenges of a world in transition. I've long ago given up trying to intellectualise Satyananda Yoga, but one thing is certain: whatever you put into it, you'll get double in return. Show me a bank that can do that!