The sanctuary bells burst into song as I pulled into a parking space at the Light of Truth Universal Shrine (LOTUS) in Buckingham, Virginia. In a pretty decent rendition of Julie Andrews high tailing it down the mountain when she heard the abbey’s call to prayer, my girlfriends and I bolted from the van to make it inside before the doors closed.
We slipped off our shoes outside, grabbed meditation benches and pillows, and hurried up the spiral staircase so quickly that my head spun. The final bell faded just as we settled into our meditation stances beneath the magnificent dome of the interfaith shrine, our hearts still racing from the rush.
It was my last chance to meditate in the LOTUS before heading home. My first time was just the day before on the first full day of my weekend retreat at Yogaville, the ashram of Sri Swami Satchidananda (1914-2002), the founder of Integral YogaÒ.
The building is LOTUS not only in name; it replicates a lotus flower in its very architecture. I’ll admit, the first time I saw the LOTUS I thought it looked like a Disney theme park ride. I half expected the pink flower petals circling the outside of the building to open up and spin. I have a hard time taking pastel colors seriously, especially the namby pamby pink and blue combination adorning the LOTUS.
But the first time I meditated inside that crazy structure, I was hooked. It wasn’t just that the inner dome is constructed of stunning natural wood with no hint of Disney in sight. What really struck me were the alters to all the world religions ringing the parameters of the sanctuary. It’s the most inclusive spiritual space I’ve ever visited.
“Dedicated to the Light of all faiths and to world peace, the Light of Truth Universal Shrine (LOTUS) is unique,” a Yogaville brochure explains. “Altars representing the world’s faiths are illuminated by a great central Light, reminding us that while there is one Supreme Truth, this Truth may be approached through a variety of names and forms.”
A Yogaville nun underscored this message to me when I shared with her my struggle with spiritual labeling. A follower of Satchidananda since the mid-1970s, the grey-haired wise woman told me it’s absolutely fine for me to not ascribe to a defined tradition in my spiritual journey. What a relief!
She also helped me get over my OM paranoia. I’m not one of “those chanting meditators,” who have always scared me a little for some unknown reason. I prefer the stillness of un-voiced mindfulness meditation as my daily practice.
When I explained to the nun that chanting felt noisy and intrusive to me (plus a little embarrassing), she had me put my hand on top of my head while OM-ing. I felt the vibration and understood that OM is about sending your vibration into the universe as a form of communication and energy sharing. I sort of liked this concept, since it fits in with my goal of being a net supplier of positive energy in the world. Chanting won’t be a regular thing for me, but I was able to let go of my judgment and fear surrounding the practice.
Yogaville’s PR looks great on paper, but the actual experience of meditating inside the LOTUS sanctuary was the truly powerful part.
Never have I felt such peace and connection. Never have I experienced such depth of inner stillness and awareness. Never have I felt like I could meditate indefinitely as I did during both of my sessions inside that dome.
A touch of sadness passed through me when the bell marked the end of the meditation. I didn’t want to leave. I felt so aligned and balanced as we left the building in silence that I was compelled to walk only on the straight lines separating the walkway tiles. I resisted the urge to try to do a cartwheel without falling off the straight line, as I used to do as a teenager during my inauspicious gymnast career. I chose not to embarrass my friends.
If you had told me even a year ago that I would take a precious weekend of my time to spend at a spiritual guru’s ashram, let alone a guru who had passed away more than a decade ago, I would have said you were crazy. But after experiencing the energy inside the LOTUS and throughout Yogaville as a whole, I know I’ll go back one day.
The universe gives us whatever we need for the evolution of our consciousness. In this case it’s been my three running buddies, veterans of Yogaville who convinced me to sign up for a weekend retreat. What a gift to have friends who have a more expansive view of you than you have of yourself.
Am I going to sell all my worldly possessions and become a nun at the ashram? No. My personal path is to operate in the world as consciously and mindfully as I am able.
Am I grateful for Sri Swami Satchidananda, whom I had previously put in the category of a caricature? You bet I am.
My brief visit to Yogaville opened my mind a bit more, loosened my judgments, dissolved some long-standing fears (my OM paranoia in particular), and reinforced my sense of purpose. Not a bad result for a weekend getaway.
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