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The Ego Death Retreat: It’s All Over Now, Ego Blues

April 18, 2012

Leave your discourses behind, something calls for you
Forget the death, you’ve left; it will not follow you
The infant who is rapping at your door
Is standing in clothes that you once wore
Bliss is here at last, go start anew
And it’s all over now, ego blues
–Bob Bhajan

“Ego Death and Divine Rebirth,” was a retreat far beyond the grasp of the ordinary rational mind. It was an event that transcended the univocal narratives of the ego, the self-alienated consciousness that maintains the prison of emotional bipolarity and the nightmare of repeating karmic patterns of futile suffering. The retreat, held appropriately on Holy Week, punched holes in the “Master’s Discourse” of egoic consciousness, and, yet, left the participants feeling truly awakened and whole. The retreat exposed the lack at the center of the ego-structure and revealed it as the portal to Shunyata, the paradoxical Emptiness, from which the entire cosmos emanates.

Nirmala, recounting her non-ordinary experience at Arunachala, said she encountered the illusory ego façade and was able to be “totally okay with this game we are playing, it was a peak experience in tears and smiles for the ‘me’ in hearing God’s laughter as a recognition of non-duality. This retreat has been a shedding of obstacles, doubts, judgments, fantasies, agendas, roles, longings, and fears, that all stood in the way of simply resting in the Heart of Universal Oneness. Living in the flow of paradox has been the theme….”

Perhaps the only adequate way to describe the retreat is in terms of music. The gathering conveyed a tonality that was uncannily resonant with higher dimensions of Being. It was delivered in a cadence, a flow, in which one had to stop fighting the currents of resistance, and just let go. Music expresses a playfulness that is trans-linguistic, buoyantly opposing the mind’s obsession toward concretization and categorization, and yet displays an immediate familiarity that seems more intimate and capable of penetrating the walls of egoic defenses than any other form of art. Just as in music, the silence and the notes become one inextricable whole, each accentuating and deepening the expressiveness and meaning of the other, the “Ego Death and Divine Rebirth” retreat reminded everyone that upon the silence of the ego, and the dissolution of the ego-mind, the True Self is forever realized as “the fundamental sruti note, that underlies and blends with all the other notes,” as Sri Ramana Maharshi once described it.

Bhuma recalled, “Arriving at Arunachala, I felt excited and was looking forward to a retreat like the previous one. Even though the earth had been torn to give birth to the new agricultural project, I felt secure in the fact that retreat week was here and silence would be restored. Holding onto this ridiculous thought of homeostasis, I soon found myself on the floor laughing wildly at the absurdity of the ego mind. The ice world of Kali Yuga is truly melting!”

After Shunyamurti’s first teaching on Saturday, the participants introduced themselves and decided how they were going to sing their (ego’s) swan song. They began to compose their own unique number within the cosmic opera. Shunyamurti reminded the retreatants that they had been brought to Arunachala: carefully delivered as the divine instruments in Shiva’s orchestra, each one expressing a different timbre, a nuanced melodic color with which to perform a specific solo act—as well as to harmonize with other beings to create a communal song whose overtones invoke the Oversoul.

“Quantum collapse: when you think you know someone, when you name something, when you materialize something—this stops the flow. Like in music—you cannot hold on to a note,” gleaned Durga from her experience at the retreat.

For many, the most remarkable thing about the week-long concert of consciousness was the overwhelming humor that no one could have anticipated. Shunyamurti’s preferred instruments for the week were the cymbals, which, in his comedic clashing together of the ego’s rigid, bipolar belief systems, gave birth to new, higher symbols. And the way in which this was accomplished was something akin to an operatic comedy: the sacrificing of the trite and stultified persona in an upsurge of transcendent laughter. An alternative name for the retreat could have been: The Assassination of the Puerile Ego as Performed by the Yogis of the Asylum of Arunachala Under the Direction of Shunyamurti.

“We learned that all the thoughts in the mind have been imposed on us from outside. This insight has helped me in my meditations and allowed me to have more peace of mind. After all, ‘there is no I’; ‘there nothing to do, and no one to do it.’ Like the words from an old song I know: ‘The lights are on, but no-body’s home.’ The ego is an illusion, as is the idea that there is a difference between life and death,” roared Jim in boundless laughter.

The composition of the retreat left everyone in a sattvic state of peaceful composure. There were meditative hikes through the jungle to Varanasi and the Gangaji, then the famous Arunachala “Land Loop,” and of course participation in the ashram’s ambitious prema-culture projects, each act with its own rhythm, its own unique beat and feel.

One retreatant observed, “It seems I say this about each retreat, but I truly believe that this retreat has built upon the previous retreats to take us that much deeper into the depths and lightness of our One spirit. Each retreat is unique and empowers us in different ways, and it has become increasingly clear to me that the energy field of Arunachala continues to evolve, to offer safe haven to our hearts and souls as we weather the sometimes tumultuous course into the unconscious to emerge as Beings aware of our true essence and purpose, free of illusion. And the absolute unwavering peace that is created by the collective generosity of Spirit of the community is a blessing that contains me as I face my own inner demons (delusions) and transform. I am infinitely grateful for the gift God has given us all, through the sangha and the seva, the Divine in us all. It is unparalleled.”

On Tuesday there was a communal cabaret show featuring the “Five Sisters” of Sat Yoga. Revealing the prema-cultural musical score under which Arunachala is currently being directed, the agricultural “master plan,” Tamara, Marjiva, Durga, Heidi, and Shivani briefly described all of the different melodic compositions that are being planned, planted, and played out in the Sat Yoga gardens now known as Hirdaya (the Heart).

One of the most interesting aspects of permaculture that the sisters explained was the holistic/symbiotic approach that the agricultural committee is interweaving into this design. What they described of the plans for the land was nothing less than an agricultural orchestration: each group of plants playing its specific part on time, augmenting the overall melody of the performance, emphasizing specific tonal colors, and then letting another group take the lead. The strings, the brass, the woodwind, and the percussion all have organic equivalents in this grand symbiotic symphony!

The Nada Yoga classes took a different approach during this retreat: one with a teaching of the Soy Dog, a new twist on the well-known Yo Soy-Burger, led by Radha, and the other with a live bhajan concert led by Shivani, featuring Sat Yoga’s new harmonium. The melodious tunes produced in the Nada Yoga classes provided the perfect venue for a majestic mind-dissolution, with a bass line of sublime, sacred devotion, replete with melodies that led the listener back to the Source, and a harmonization that provided final release within an atmosphere of boundless, heart-melting love.

“In this retreat we weaved a new meaning as we came together in love for Divine Rebirth. The tapestry was woven with love, songs, and delight,” smiled Amrita injoy.

On the eve of the creative writing class, a powerful thunderstorm was brewing. As the retreatants read aloud their poetry, prose, and the priceless expressions issued forth from their hearts, the thunder rolled, creating an uncanny coniunctio of microcosm and macrocosm, a beautiful duet between soul and world, through which one could witness lyrical roses blossom, and, like the story of the Buddha, one could hear Gaia’s booming sign of approval. Sat’s performance of Parsifal showed the false hubris of the egoic armor as nothing more than baby pajamas, and Ashoka delivered an unforgettable Yo! Soy Burger rap-attack. These were but a few of the priceless diamonds that were mined from deep within the soul of each yogi.

Ajata, reflecting deep within, commented, “When I’m confronted with Truth, there tends to be turbulence. The repressed rises, the ego’s fantasies mount their defenses, and I’m forced to see where the reality of my Being is resisted most. It’s quite a beautiful happening actually, for it is only in these moments that the narratives about who I am, and what life was, and is, can dissolve into the power and silent presence of the Absolute. That which seemed to be dies to what is. It is the most beautiful moment of Grace, to rest in the Self. And I am eternally grateful to God for every moment spent at this retreat, and for every opportunity to sit in front of Shunyamurti with the Sat Yoga family.”

On the final night of the retreat, at the Sat Yoga yagya, or sacrificial fire, the retreatants threw whatever remained of their egos into the fire. And, of course, the joy that was released in this act of liberation expressed itself in an enchanting series of musical masterpieces, including breathtaking songs, symbolic (and comedic) interpretive dances, instrumental pieces that became instant classics, kirtans—and even a comedic endeavor of trying to draw the moon.

Looking back on the week, Yogiraj remembered, “The ‘Ego Death and Divine Rebirth’ retreat was a precious opportunity to witness the subtle, and not so subtle, workings of the ego mind. Shunyamurti’s insistence on the unreality of ego consciousness was powerful and rattled my cage so that I may never be the same again. The intensive week-long retreat offered heartfelt music and performance, nutritious and delicious meals from Radha’s Kitchen, and the opportunity to create deeper relationships in the Sat Yoga community. The power of the gathering was evident in the transformation of those visiting Arunachala for the first time, yet equally humbling for those longing to be reunited with this sacred land. The wisdom and generosity of Shunyamurti reached deep into the soul, nurturing and provoking the awakening of the truth of our being. These retreats never fail to bring about an essential paradigm shift and the opening for accelerated expansion into the infinite.”

Several other retreatants shared their comments on the week’s events:

“This wonderful retreat helped me greatly to understand that what we think we are is like the foam of the wave of a cosmic intelligence and what we truly are is unseen to what we think we are. Stillness is the key for acceptance and relaxation in this wonderful ocean of bliss. I will cherish this in daily sadhana,” resolved Gambhira.

“I felt Shunyamurti’s teachings on this retreat were really directed to deconstruct all the fallacies that the ego creates about life itself and even about ‘spirituality.’ It was a wholesome opportunity to crumble maya’s edifice and be born again!” exclaimed Fadrique.

“This retreat really eased the weight on my shoulders. I learned to approach life in a new way, with less worry and more joy!” offered Surya.

Viviana shared, “For me the most amazing experience was to live out the values that Sat Yoga clearly define as the real values important in life. Related to this, I was able to clearly see and experience so many other values implied in the way we lived in the Ashram. The experience was so real, that it changed the way I am living now. For example: I am dedicating 30-45 minutes a day to meditate. I am getting up early in the morning to meditate and going to bed early at night. This is a huge, real change in my behavior and the most important thing for me is that I am not struggling to do it; I am really convinced and I have a sincere desire to do it. And this is possible only because of the experience I had in the retreat. It is one thing if someone tells you this is good, and another thing completely to experience it as truly good.”

Manuel shared, “It was quite an experience to realize that when you are walking in the right direction, your true Self starts emerging. It’s a similar feeling to being back home after a long journey abroad. A must-live retreat.”

“The retreat was not what I expected: most of the insights and realizations came days and weeks following the retreat. It might have had something to do with the guided meditations and the way teachings were given. As usual the community was amazing, the environment, the food, the gardens, the silence—everything was in perfect balance to help my ego die,” said Barrie with a smile on his face.

Nirmala concluded, “One of the infinite jewels I left this retreat with is that underneath all of the doing and non-doing, thinking and non-thinking, is the Untouched, Pure, Liberated Self. When the time comes for Grace to descend, it will happen outside of time and can happen at any moment, knowing Thy Self as the entire universe and cosmos, the dreamer and the dream and the screen upon which this all appears is what awaits as an inner reality—as stated in so many ways by numerous saints and sages throughout time. Now it’s time to put this to the test and rest in faith of the Perfection of all that is.”

The joyful performance of the ego death requiem brought with it a peace that will forever remain intimately near. Beneath the surface level, through all the tears and laughter, there remains a silent melody that everyone can subtly hear. With the death of death accomplished, there remains nothing to do and no one to fear. As all beings are manifestations of the Self, every soul is a peer, a great seer, a symbol from God that all beings are infinitely dear. If you listen closely, focusing all your attention on your third ear, you can clearly hear the music of the Hyperdimensional Sphere. Don’t look any further: Bliss is Now; Bliss is Here.

You must leave now, take nothing more, the past is past
Any karma left to reap, well just surrender fast
Yonder lies the ego; it is done
Resting like a fire in the sun
Look at how the Atman’s shining through
And it’s all over now, ego blues
(and thanks to Bob Dylan and of course to Baba Dilaram for the inspired lyrics reworked here)

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