Every year for my birthday I either do something I’ve never done before or go somewhere I’ve never been. I decided to do this in 2002 in the spirit of my mom. She passed away 12 years ago, we shared the same birthday, she loved to travel, but limited herself to places where she only knew people. In her memory (and with her in spirit) I decided to spend our birthdays this way.
This year I visited the SonoMa Ashram in Sonoma, CA. I wasn’t sure what to expect or even look for, but after researching so many ashrams, this one seemed to be the most down to earth. The only thing I only knew was that I needed a place to run away to. A place where I could disappear from everything and collect myself again. At the time felt like I was falling to pieces and not only loosing myself, but loosing connection with everyone around me. Basically I felt alone and lost.
I was going for 2 days and 1 night, so I packed a simple bag of clothing and snacks, printed up my map, and hit the 101 North before the sunrise.
When I got there, I arrived in time for the sunrise meditation. I had no idea of what to do so as usual, I just observed and did what I felt comfortable doing. The building was circular and the bare inside with one main entrance. I grabbed a cushion and found a place to sit. Since I knew none of the chants, I simply listened, then began meditating in the way I knew how, by focusing on my breath and letting go of thought. It was a challenge at first, and it had been years since I really tried to meditate, but I eventually fell right back into it. We closed the meditation through chants and offering and then I stayed for the Sunday Satsang. Afterwards, I joined the others for conversation in the main building and a quick meditation lesson from a long time member of the ashram.
I won’t go into all the details of my time there, but I will say that I truly enjoyed my visit. For starters, I loved that they accommodated my vegan lifestyle, not just for me, but for everyone (everyone eats the same food). I also loved the sense of community and respect. Meals are eaten together in silence and prepared using their garden vegetables. Visitors are encouraged to help out there, but are in no way expected to. I helped in the kitchen for several of the meals as they were so kind as to plan for vegan meals. I also liked that religion is not mentioned or emphasized.
The Ashram itself is simple, and no one invades your space. You set up your own bed, clean your own room, and launder your own sheets. You can also go to any of the yoga classes, but I didn’t get a chance to.
A tiny bridge leading to the main building
Freshly weeded garden, ready for new veggies
I loved this fence
A stone labrynth
The fruit stand on my way home
In the end I am so glad I went. I needed this more than anything and felt ready to reconnect with myself. I was a mess. I plan on returning for a longer stay. I loved the meditation and would like to attend the yoga classes. To help pay for your lodging (which includes meals) you can offer your services to do chores, or share your talents (teach, etc.). Maybe I’ll offer a class on veganism along with helping in the kitchen and garden.
On the way home, I took in the scenery of the Sonoma area. What a beautiful landscape! Rolling hills and vineyards and lush greener made me wish I packed my Nikon. I picked up fruit at a local stand, briefly visited San Francisco, and came home, ready to re-start my new year.