When I was thinking through packing for my trip, I was guided by a philosophy of minimalism. Looking back on my time staying at Gandhi’s ashram, I had the perfect chance to dive deeper into that philosophy and to extend it beyond material possessions. There, I spent my time searching for enso, a Japanese word that means circle and “symbolizes a moment when the mind is free to simply let the body/spirit create”. Create what? Create thought, meaningful interactions, good writing, a balanced spirit… anything.
The accommodations were simple and straight forward. The beds were thin mattresses with a small, hard pillow. Our “showers” were just hot water in a bucket. The meals were vegetarian and simple, but tasty. The ashram is an early to rise and early to bed environment and there’s a non-existent night life. Internet was accessed through USB sticks that connect to the cell network. They’re relatively fast, but we lost some, some stopped working and there was a lot of people that wanted to use the few that were functioning.
Despite all that, I really enjoyed our time there. I tried trying to wake up early enough to go on a short run before breakfast, sometimes in the company of Suraj, who was one of our jack-of-all-trades helpers (hot water, cleaning, supplies, entertainment). For the first few weeks, I went the same route every time, occasionally pushing a little further when I felt up for it. I came across three villages, packs of dogs that are sometimes not very friendly, kids on their way to school, migrant workers in beautiful fields and lots of curious onlookers. When Nico, who also enjoys running, was bitten by one of the dogs I changed course and began to explore the other direction.
A few things have changed that I hope to keep now that we’ve left the ashram. I’ve gotten much more efficient at processing emails. I was always pretty good, but since other people are wanting to Skype with their parents I’ve tried to limit my time and make the most of the time I had.
I also care less about Facebook and checking random sites. I’ll log in to see what a small group of people I really care about are doing, respond to anything worthy and send off a message or two (I’m doing an experiment using the Dunbar number to try and actively create more value in using sites like Facebook). But most of the time my notifications are just event invitations that I don’t care about.
We’ve become too attached to the dopamine rush that comes with seeing notifications, whether they’re emails, texts or Facebook. The ashram gave me a chance to really break from that cycle and I would really do well to maintain a degree of distance in the future.
The lack of consistent internet freed up my time for me to do other things, more important things. I’ve been trying to focus more on producing quality writing and the ashram was a very conducive environment. I had a surge in dream journaling, with some pretty intense and vivid dreams. I’ve been reading a lot more and diving into the texts assigned for our classes here. Most importantly, though, I began to spend more time with people, whether they were my group members or Suraj and Akash up to no good.
Minimalism isn’t necessarily about cutting out everything, just anything that gets in the way of doing what you want to do. The ashram was quiet space where I could focus on finding enso and the moments where I threw off the weight of pointless things were precious and the stuff that life is made of. The connected world can wait patiently. It’ll still be there when those moments are over.