You give a lot of yourself. And I feel fairly confident that most days I do too. We generate energy and put it towards our relationships, our jobs, and our social circles. But often our intention is to get something back. What if we could remove the need to receive and simply do the good deed for the sake of making someone’s day a little better? Answering the question, “How can I better the community around me?” can sometimes feel challenging. It can also make you question if you have to give up your self-needs in the process. But you don’t. Selfless service does not have to involve a lack of care for the self. Instead it actually involves doing what you can to put yourself in a position to give to others, to be more present, thus empowering you and inspiring you to make decisions that benefit all. In that, you grow and you feel good. But how do we do that?
I found myself asking these very questions after a roller coaster year that repeatedly challenged my personal balance. I decided to look for an opportunity to heal that would combine my adventurous side with my mindfulness path as well as my interest in working in service of others. Drawn to the North (Canada) for most of my life, it became clear to me that Northern British Columbia with its wildly beautiful landscape was somewhere I could simply take and experience time. Time in nature, time for myself, time to learn and if I was lucky, time to connect with like-minded people who also want to grow as individuals and as a community. And that’s how I found Anuttara Ashram.
Situated on 100 acres of isolated, mountainous Northern BC land about an hour and a half from Terrace, and miles from cell service, Anuttara offers the chance to expand your yoga and meditation practice in a simple setting. You can visit as a guest on a self-guided retreat, or participate in the workings of the ashram as part of their Karma Yoga program. My intention was to disconnect with the external in an effort to re-focus and re-connect with myself so that I could be a stronger caregiver for others. Here I would live close to nature, work in service of the community, and undoubtedly learn more about myself than I ever could in my regular life.
I chose to participate in the part time Karma Yoga program. Waking at 6AM each morning for a blissful two hour guided yoga and meditation practice, followed by breakfast, 3 hours of work and lunch. In the afternoon, I had time for journaling, hiking, reading and whatever other soul-enriching activities I could find. After another personal meditation and a heavenly outdoor, private shower before dinner, it was early to bed in my electricity-free, wood-stove warmed cabin. Glorious! There was routine in each day and life was simple. But the intention was clear—the personal practice comes first, followed by dedicating time and energy toward life at the ashram. What freedom it is to work, not for money, but for the betterment and existence of the community. There is development of trust, balance, respect of skill and connection that comes from knowing that people on similar, yet individual paths surround you.
Does all of this sound a little hippie-esque? Well, it kind of is! But only to the depth to which you wish to participate. If you are seeking a retreat with yoga, excellent vegan food, hiking, side trip opportunities, and down time to take in the incredible scenery and a good book or two, then the self-guided retreat is the experience for you. If on the other hand, you were looking for all of that plus the experience of connecting with and learning from a mindful team, then the Karma program might give you the experience your soul needs.
I am going to be honest here. Ashram life is not for the faint of heart. The days can be long, the work is often hard and dirty, and you can’t pee and poo in the same place (if you haven’t read up on composting toilets, you should. They are great!). I had the luxury of moving around from the house team, to the land team and back again, providing me the opportunity to see where my skills could best serve. It turns out that I really like natural building! The team at Anuttara is made up of both long-term and short-term residents, all of whom have their own knowledge and experience to draw from and contribute to the community. There were skilled tradespeople, green thumbs, business minds and cooks who kept our bellies full of incredible, local, real food. It was a gift to work along side them and to learn from them.
I spent 10 days at Anuttara Ashram (after extending my stay by a few days). There was a part of me that envied those that spent months in a full ashram immersion, really allowing themselves to sink into the practice of meditation and community living. Simultaneously, I was so grateful for the taste I had. It reminded me that we are all connected to a greater force; it also helped me mend the parts of myself that needed it, leaving me excited to shift back into my life with a refreshed outlook. Removing myself from my familiar surroundings, exploring a part of the world I have long been fascinated with and simplifying my life, even for a short time, brought some very positive things forward and allowed that which was not serving me to begin to drop away. Simple, selfless service bookmarked by starting and ending the day with full attention to the self, to my own practice, to connecting to me, gave me that clarity. What better intention could you set for yourself for a day, a journey or a lifetime?
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