I sought rest from the hustle of my normal life in Peru. And rest is what I got, although a different sort of rest than I had anticipated. Britt and I arrived at Eco Truly Park, the ashram we had planned to stay at for a week. The Ashram sits in a secluded field, just a little north of Lima and close to the beach. We soon found out that the ashram was not just any ashram, it was a Hare Krishna ashram.
Okay so you are all probably laughing right now. How did we miss that it was a Hare Krishna ashram? Well to be honest the website doesn’t make clear that the ashram has religious affiliations (check it out: www.ecotrulypark.org). Regardless, we embraced it and I am so glad we did.
What comes to mind when you hear Hare Krishna? For me I knew next to nothing about the religion, aside from the fact that they enjoy making and giving food (I have eaten at Hare Krishna restaurants and heard about groups on campuses). So in addition to learning about a religion that I only knew to be associated with food, I learned that I could become part of a trusting, loving, spiritual, giving community in only a week. But let me back up…
A German man, who practiced the religion, came to South America years ago to build several different ashrams where devotees could live and practice. Anyone was invited and still is invited to visit and live at the ashram. And we saw quite the evidence:
- yoga teachers,
- spiritual leaders,
- Aryuvedic practitioners
The guests included devotees who live at the ashram and volunteers from all over the world (we met people from Australia, Sweden, England, Argentina, and the US in the course of a week). These visitors stay at the ashram for short stays to experience the community or spend months at the ashram writing books.
As a volunteer at the ashram, I helped out a few hours a day with various activities ranging from sweeping to cooking to painting to baking. And then there was that day we had to empty the sawdust compost toilets. There was talk of planting a permaculture garden our entire stay, but we quickly found out that even though we were at an ashram, things still worked the Peruvian way: slowly! But we went with it and spent time with all sorts of unique, interesting individuals.
The day began with 6am yoga classes taught by Rajmaj, who was quite the character. We were told that Rajamaj had not eaten for 30 days and was living on pranayama (extension of the breath exercises in yoga). We spent hours pondering how this short round man (and I mean round) could teach several yoga classes a day and never eat? Shortly after this we started looking for him at meal times and after a few days found him with a plate piled high, Peruvian style. Lies! After that meal we continuously found him chowing down. His yoga classes on the other hand were unlike anything I have ever experienced. They included jumping exercises, applying pressure (to the point of pain) to pressure points, and breathing and meditation exercises that were so mentally challenging they made you want to cry. (see below practicing meditation exercise)
Meal times were my favorite time of day. Okay the food was amazing vegetarian food, but the real reason this was my favorite time of day was that it was the time when the community came together and intentionally shared nourishment and conversation. And it was intentional; we spent hours at the table slowly enjoying the food prepared for their God, Krishna, and sharing conversations that switched back and forth between Spanish and English and German.
Temple came second. Every night after dinner we walked, barefoot, over to the temple with the stars as our guide. Temple was an hour of singing. The devotees took turns leading the songs and playing instruments (one evening they even pulled out an accordion). While I can’t say that I agree with the majority of their religious beliefs, it became beautiful to see their passion and love for God and how that manifested in song and in food and in color. They offered food to Krishna five times every single day and dressed Krishna statues in colorful clothing daily.
Conclusions? I’m glad I went. What a unique, inspiring experience. When else will I spend a week in a Hare Krishna community, or for that matter any religious community? The week at Eco Truly Park left me truly thankful for the trust and love that comes from being part of a community. Llama is a small community and so in some sense I find some of the same feelings of trust and love there, especially when neighbors bring huge bags of figs or potatoes over to share with me out of the blue. Tomorrow I am headed back to Llama after two weeks of vacation. Thanks to this experience, I am in a place where I am able to give and receive community-shared sentiments more than ever before.