Ashish Vaswani
I know this blog has been reeling in a silence of sorts for more than four months now. (My sincere apologies for that) But there’s another silence-filled experience that I’m dying to talk about. I recently returned from Art of Living’s Bengaluru Ashram after completing the YES+ Advanced course held in the winter break. And before you come to conclusions, let me clarify that neither am I an ardent Sri Sri follower, nor do I stand by the tenets that AOL exponents preach. I believe that any ideology (spiritual or otherwise) is like a buffet fare where you can pick what you like and leave the rest. (You can read my views on Sri Sri’s now infamous quantum bullet fiasco here)

Speaking of the advanced course, it was something I’d been hearing about right after my YES+, which I did almost a couple of years ago. Though it wasn’t something I was dying to do, a casual mail from my friend, Niraj (who introduced me to AOL) informing me about the course details and the fact that it coincided with my holidays was reason enough for me to give it a shot. I must say, it wasn’t a bad decision. (Though the experience wasn’t as out-of-the-world as diehard AOL bhakts (AKA volunteers, AKA the people who stand 7 feet away from the last row of the audience) portray it to be)
Nevertheless, let me tell you what I thought about the course. Now, I was well aware that it involved spending a good amount of the weeklong course in complete silence (No eye contact, no cell phones, no music, no books). I also knew that close to 2000 youth congregate in the Ashram from the world over for this celebration called the winter break. Bawa and Dineshda, the directors of WAYE have put together an interesting course that blends together, a whole lot of meditation, fun, and much more, all whilst allowing you to spend enough time with yourself to figure which way you’re headed in life and tweak your approach if need be.

The silence was the easy part. Technically, we just spent two and a half days in total silence. And trust me, when you know that a 1000+ people around you are unavailable to talk to, it really isn’t very difficult. Sadhna, Seva and Satsang are the three main pillars of AOL. For Seva, I was allotted the Gaushala (cowshed). (The Bengaluru Ashram has this and stuff like an AgriBusiness College, a Vedic Gurukul, a dedicated centre for Vedic Maths, among other things, spread across 65 acres of land that the AOL Foundation owns) This meant that I had to collect cow droppings that’d later be used as manure. Once in a lifetime experience it was!

The Ashram kitchen doles out sumptuous meals thrice a day for thousands of Ashramites. It was the first time I saw vessels the size of steam boilers being used to cook gallons of sambhar and giant wardrobe-sized machines being employed to maintain a steady supply of well rounded chapattis. What’s more, Bau had transformed the cafeteria into a jazzy bistro christened La Khana. This was a welcome respite. Visit Bawa and Dineshda’s blog here to sample the menu.

The Bhakti concert towards the end of the course was the icing on the cake. The beautiful Vishalakshi Mantap was the perfect backdrop to an evening spent listening to the most interesting stories and soulful music by some of the most talented people around. In totality, the winter break was an amazing place to make new friends (truckloads of them), delve deep into the depths of our minds and resurface with renewed vigour and vitality. Highly recommended if you’re low on your fun quotient!