The yoga place I found was in my budget, only a one hour drive away, had a lake, cows, 3 hours plus of yoga per day and you could even see Mt Warning from the windows of the yoga hall...winning!
It wasn't until the confirmation email came through that I realised I'd actually booked into a Hare Krishna eco-village. Oops. That's different. (most people may have dawned by it being called 'Krishna Village' but never mind). I remained relatively unfazed until joking about it with a few people. My mum insisted on having coffee with me at work the day before I left (just checking in!) and my friend Shel softly reminded me that even though I had a strong pull towards the yellow and orange colour spectrum, I should not let this sway me.
I know very little about the Hare Krishna faith, with the exception of an incredibly generalised perception of bald hair, happy people, dressed in orange, playing tambourines and signing their hearts out down the streets of Surfers Paradise. Although intrigued I've never found anything offensive about it; in fact it always makes me smile at their boldness to be so publicly joyful.
I chose not to investigate further because to be completely honest, this little get away was self indulgent, about spending time with me with no desire to make any new friends.
I've travelled a lot by myself and although surprisingly an introvert in new surroundings or out of my comfort zone, I have taught myself how to handle it so knew I'd be okay. Arriving at the village was slightly overwhelming as I could see that on surface level these people and their way of life was worlds apart from my own.
Krishna Village eco yoga retreat is adjoined (by a ten minute walk up a gorgeous hill aligned with lily pond lakes and big fat friendly cows and bulls) to the Hare Krishna temple. All of the Krishna practices and most of the meals during the retreat are served up here. The eco village where the yoga takes place is set on a permaculture farm and invites travellers and locals to camp, eat and attend yoga sessions in exchange for service on the land. In order to make this sustainable, the team built shipping containers around the property that were converted into very small, modest but comfortable bedrooms so people like me could come and actually pay for the yoga, food and services. This money would then pay for a few permanent staff and therefore enable a long term business model beyond the volunteering. There is also the opportunity to buy additional snacks, massages and farm tours. In terms of the volunteers that live in tents, some people come for a week whilst most have been there living for months.
I spoke with Henreike, the business development manager, about the reason for not having to be of Hare Krishna faith in order to stay or volunteer. Their thinking is that when visitors see the lifestyle and how simple and happy their existence is, they may be called to know more. I certainly felt no pressure at all, however the Krishna way of life is present in all activities. The music played in yoga sessions, sitting on the floor crossed legged to eat your meals ( not compulsory but hey, you try to at least not stand out more than you need to!), the conversations that you hear walking by and the signs/symbols around the place. I believe a couple of days is fine to go under the radar but more than that you would be curious to know and interact more. (and they are so nice you would feel rude not to).
Then there is the highlight of their week, Friday night pizza night ( all vegan of course).
I did not attend this ( remember not there to make friends!) and actually was curious to observe from afar. Whilst reading my book in bed the sounds of laughing, talking, conversation, music and some of the most passionate singing I've ever heard vibrated around the site. It was a sound similar to being in bed listening to a party for 70+ 20 year olds, until you realise that this obvious 'high' being generated wasn't actually from alchohol or illegal substances and the music wasn't Drake. These were completely sober people high on nothing but their faith. I actually fell asleep to this and woke up feeling great.
The world 'cult' is often used a lot to describe this faith and I was very conscious of my thoughts on this in the two short days I was there. It got me thinking about the definition of cult. The dictionary describes it as, ' a system of religious veneration and devotion directed towards a particular figure or object.' Yep the euphoric joy in their devotion to their god could definitly fit into this definition, no question.
But arent all of us intrenched in a 'cult' of some sort? Maybe though because WE perceive our daily actions as normal, we never think about it in this context.
Perhaps the Hare Krishna's would observe a group of 20 year olds at a party or a group of adults on a Friday night and view our devotion towards a particular object, i.e. alcohol as a cult?
Perhaps they would observe the way of life of many a corporate person that sits in traffic for hours, wears restrictive clothes, works 12 hours a day, and is devoted to their company or product as a cult?
Perhaps they would look at a wealthy group of mums that meet regularly in their groups, where outsiders just know that to be welcomed in you must fit a certain criteria or mould, as a cult?
Perhaps they would look at our newsagent stands where the crappiest and most low life of magazines are sold in millions to fulfil the crazy devotion towards pop culture heros as a cult?
Perhaps they would look at our complete devotion to our mobile phones and the content it provides as a cult?
You get the picture. There are many, many examples.
I believe perhaps the downside of the Hare Krishna faith or any other perceived cult (such as the above) is managing balance. I think it will be incredibly difficult for the young adults that have spent months living on the farm and in this beautiful state of peace and devoted worship to cope outside of this. At the same time it is difficult for many of us to go and spend just a few days living in their world. Due to our own set of perceptions, we find it hard to see the other way and strike that balance.
We often judge each others' way of life based on fear; a fear of the unknown and of things being so foreign to our own little circle that we can't perceive that any other way could possibly be 'right'. When you break it down those fearful of the Hare Krishna religion are actually fearful of a bunch of people whose whole mission is to be happy and live in joy and peace by worshipping a God, and that there is a chance of being hard sold or converted into this. However on the other hand the same people somehow accept our crappy politicians, the unjustness of the corporate world and the violence that is shown on our television screens at night as 'just the way it is'.
And for the Hare Krishna's who spend hours in devotion every day and do not often step outside of their own faith for fear that 'others' could be a distraction from their one devotion...their fear has perhaps clouded them to understand that regardless even if we don't praise their God or choose to eat beef, many of us are simple human beings who. just like them, want peace and joy and are carrying out our own search to find that.
Lesson is; we're all a bit crazy!
One of the most beautiful things that struck me being there for a mere speckle of time is that living in Australia, we actually get to choose. To choose our religion, object or path to follow should be a given right to all humans but unfortunately it is not and we are privileged.
I left Krisina Village one night earlier than intended. That had nothing to do with the place as I was in such a peaceful, light and free state of mind. I left as my heart was called somewhere else and, as the underlying reason for being here was to listen to my heart, I chose to follow it.
Would I go back again? Maybe for a few days like this time. I certainly felt a state of peace but I also did not feel inclined to integrate more as I know this particular belief, however beautiful, was not in sync with mine and therefore know I would feel slightly hypocritical staying too much longer. ( plus those of you who know me know I'm not particular fond of group activities!)
Only once during my stay did someone come and talk to me about their faith and question mine.
My response was that to see such a group of people so joyful in their belief was a beautiful thing because they really seemed to believe in it and love it with their heart and soul. My own personal belief is if someone is 100% true to themselves (which is the opposite of feeling you 'should' or having it forced upon you) and finds innate joy in holding another in such high regard regardless of it being Krishna, Buddha, God, nature, Leunigs' Duck, your favourite singer, your cat, family or friends; if that thing inspires you to be a more joyful and kind human being, you will inadvertently be making the world a better place, so go for it!