This summer I was invited by Dhammadipa, a Buddhist monk from the Czech Republic, to spend a week in his hermitage. Dhammadipa is a teacher I respect so much that I can hardly talk in his presence. Seeing him, as a friend of mine noted, "Is like seeing the Buddha walk into the room."
So, somewhat nervous I showed up at the Prague airport and was met by the master himself and his assistant Dhammarama.
Rewind: During the two-hour flight to Prague I worried about a lot of things: How does a great meditation teacher live? Does he spend his days absorbed in meditation? (And do I have to sit on a cushion eight hours a day?) Do I have to dress up and look "respectable" or can I wear comfy clothes? Does he receive huge donations, and has he mistaken me for being a big sponsor? While all these questions went through my head, what I worried most about was only saying profane and stupid things in the presence of such a wise man.
As it often happens, my worries were in vain; Dhammadipa lives a modest life in a small cottage in the middle of the "Czech paradise" a protected area with stunning natural scenery. I was given a room upstairs, which turned out to be Dhammadipa´s own study- full of thick volumes of Sanskrit and Chinese grammar: the study of an old-school master. Our days consisted of an hour meditation, (before which I did my own Ashtanga practice) a hearty breakfast, and then hours of walking in the forest. It turns out Dhammadipa loves picking blueberries and mushrooms.
During our long walks, I learned the fascinating life story of my remarkable teacher; fleeing military service during the communist takeover in Czechoslovakia, the young philosophy and literature student, Tomas, roamed Europe as a devastated refugee without ID papers or money.
Through some karmic twists of fate, Tomas has become Dhammadipa - the Island of Dharma - and has taken refuge in the forest. He is a somewhat untraditional teacher: immune to the hierarchic competition between different Buddhist schools, he teaches whatever method he finds most useful for his students.
In his presence, I began to take my first little baby steps towards the true meaning of Yoga. Dhammadipa sometimes breaks into a laugh telling me that all that "stuff" which makes up our lives is just the surface. "It is all just a dream - always changing and impossible to grasp" "don´t worry, you are a Yogi now, Ellen!"
But am I really? As soon as I try to experience my mind directly, it is all a mess - and this is in spite of all my years of Ashtanga Yoga and studies in Buddhist philosophy. Without people like Dhammadipa, all our study and learning remains theory and we ourselves never change. The philosophy is derived from direct yogic experiences and we are also meant to experience it -not just admire and respect it, but to actually DO it, and this takes more time and commitment than most of us can bear.
So, while I am on one hand trying to cut my way through the social media jungle taking the pains to learn about Instagram, Google indexing and marketing, I am also training to realize that deep inside this is all a dream - and that certainly feels like a new beginning!