For the past two years, every December, my husband and I have bundled our two boys to India for a 6 day spiritual retreat. Now, before you start thinking that we are some kind of crazy hippies, we actually are quite regular folk who just want to expose our boys to as many different experiences as we can.
Hence, the great Indian Spiritual Retreat.
By spiritual, the focus is not on praying or institutionalised religion. Spirituality in the Ashram that we go to is about the ability to sit still, enjoy nature and inner calm.
The Ashram itself is in a placid village-town about 2.5 hour drive north of the city of Bangalore. After two continuous years of doing this, we can really see how these retreats rejuvenates our tired adult selves. We are especially thrilled to see the children simply thriving amidst the calm and understanding the notion of mindfulness.
The Ashram is in a walled compound with its own little ecosystem. Inside the Ashram, there is a little supermarket, bookshop, library, three canteens serving different cuisine (South Indian/North Indian/Western) and little shops selling anything from coconut water to Indian coffee. Right in the heart of the Ashram is the Prayer Hall where the non-denominational meditation and singing sessions are undertaken.
Surrounding the Ashram is a quaint little town with a languid pace – it still looks and feels like it is 1985.
Spiritual retreat: is it for children?
Meditation and Routine: A few times, I made it for the 5am sessions by myself but usually Mu and I go with the kids after a nice breakfast in the apartment in time for the morning hymn just before 9am. After meditation, there will be singing of non-denominational hymns or bhajans.
Initially we were full of trepidation that 6 days of such meditation and bhajans might be too much and too intense for my 5 and 7 year olds. How wrong we were!
As much as they profess otherwise, children really enjoy routine and clear processes. Which is precisely what we got at the Ashram. Everything was settled around an established time-table and we followed gracefully without having to think and plan. This itself was liberating from our highly stressed regular work-life.
Digital detox. As wi-fi is limited and slow, we happily went on a digital detox which was truly wonderful. Mobile phones are barred in the prayer hall or mandir making planning your days quite quaint if you are traveling in a group. My teenage cousins were also visiting and stayed inside the Ashram. So if you want to meet, you meet at somewhere very precise and planned ahead, like Gate A under the Neem tree. And no change of plans! It really felt like 1985!!!
The Ashram is run with mechanical precision and almost completely by an army of volunteers from around the world. The kids learnt about different types of volunteers – from those cooking our food and serving us to those doing security checks, cleaning and gardening. This got them thinking about how and where they can volunteer back home!
Food: The Ashram is purely vegetarian and alcohol is forbidden.
Books: The Ashram has a lovely bookstore and small library with various books for children on everyday human values. We really enjoyed the books, especially as some introduced moral questions for kids in a nice and approachable way.
What else can you do? It is a totally old-fashioned way to spend a break where you don’t do too much, sit and play board games, read together, indulge in non-stop sketches and in the evenings, find all the other kids to kick a ball in the gardens of the Ashram. Sometimes, when we felt a bit more adventurous, we trekked a few hills that dotted the village and were rewarded with beautiful views.