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Silence, calm at retreat
by Jake Highton
Aug 28, 2010 | 727 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ENCINITAS, Calif. — The Self-Realization Fellowship retreat here is a spiritual place, a peaceful place.

You can feel it when walking in the Meditation Gardens. You can feel it in the unhurried pace of this sanctuary 25 miles north of San Diego.

You can feel it eating in silence in the dining hall, the silence that Gandhi called “wonderful efficacy” and hailed its “spiritual value.”

Here you are seized with the desire to slow down. You get the overwhelming feeling: “What’s the rush?”

No radio or television noise here. No mindless cellphone chatter. No loud talking. Just peace and quiet.

Here I cleansed the body: five days without wine and a vegetarian diet. Here I cleansed the mind: five days without the daily outrage triggered by newspaper stories. (I, who read three newspapers daily and five on Sunday!)

Here my blood pressure, normally high, was a healthy 120 over 73.

Here I banished all gloomy thoughts like that of the poet Pope who, crippled at 12, half-blind and afflicted with asthma, lamented the “long disease” of his life.

I even found myself dreaming spiritually. The dream: I was standing in a circle of silk-robed penitents with our palms together in a holy gesture.

Retreatents in the dining room can peruse an autographed copy of “India, Unveiled” by Robert Arnott. It is a book of rich text and stunning photographs. Arnott writes:

“I have traveled to the most holy sites in India but none has any higher vibrations than the Encinitas retreat. Thank you for preserving the Master’s vibrations.”

The Master is Paramahansa Yogananda who founded the Encinitas retreat (ashram) in 1937. Thousands come here annually from all over the world to pay homage to his sainthood and to renew themselves.

Arnott dedicated the book to Yogananda and “other great masters of India” who renounced worldly possessions to practice “the sacred liberating science of yoga.”

Arnott’s epilogue: “Of all the nations of the world, India is the most spiritually blessed. More and more Americans are learning that materialism does not give lasting satisfaction.”

When an Indian woman came into the refectory wearing a colorful sari I thought for moment I was in India.

I especially liked the Meditation Gardens, full of beautiful flowers and ponds with lotus, an ancient Indian symbol of spiritual unfoldment.

From the top of the garden hill you can see the Pacific. There, meditators sit on benches, some adopting the difficult lotus posture with feet above the thighs.

When the ocean is calm the waves gently break before quietly running up the strand. (Surfers on the nearby Swami’s Beach seek bigger waves.)

In the dining hall many retreatents enter with hands palm-to-palm facing a portrait of Yogananda. Many pray before and after eating. Upon leaving many retreatents reverently salute the picture.

Before meals I liked to sit in the open courtyard with a flowering poplar tree in the center. I gazed at the blue sky. I watched yoga exercises, the twirling of feet and legs and the facial caresses.

I saw a young woman meditating on the brickwork bench surrounding the poplar. Later she flashed me a beatific smile.

The gong summoning us to meals gently sounded seven times. While eating the only sound you hear is the clinking of silverware and softly played spiritual music.

One night we went to the nearby Ecinitas Self-Realization Temple for a worship service. I was surprised at how traditional it was despite the chanting and meditating: opening thoughts, devotional reading, sermon and offering.

The Self-Realization Fellowship monk giving the sermon stressed God, “talking with God” and the efficacy of prayer. He spoke of “feeling the peace” — an impossible thing for an unbeliever when America is engaged in two and a half wars.

Closing, the monk led a chant written by Yogananda: “Om (aum), this soundless roar…Om! Om! Resounding everywhere.” I confess to feeling holy at the retreat but unholy at the church service.

Another night we went to the retreat chapel. The people there are true believers. Some brought their “meditation sticks” (armrests). Meditation is a ritual: hands raised in supplication, thumbs to ears, fingers to forehead and deep concentration.

One woman ended her chapel session by prostrating on the altar before a picture of Yogananda.

The best of many Yogananda portraits dotting the retreat rooms shows him with a benign smile, flowing black hair and an orange robe affixed with a lotus pin.

It’s “the smile of bliss that comes when you meditate,” as Yogananda wrote in “Man’s Eternal Quest.” It’s the bliss of spiritual joy. It’s the bliss of helping millions of people find peace, inspiration and God.

Jake Highton teaches journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. Contact him at
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