I have never seen such a tranquil place before. The monkeys and squirrels jump through the trees, and everywhere is a pure green. I have been thinking about why I was so far away from the trees. Instead of becoming a child of the sun and adopting the trees as my masters, I became a child of the city, and computers became my master. But I have become like a small kid again here. There is something here that I just can’t describe. I feel like I have been immersed in a vast field of energy, and it is as if none of the things I heard before about India really matter. I understand it all completely right now. To be here, right at this moment, is such a personal experience that it is hard to convey adequately.

I feel a little ashamed on the first moment I enter the dorm. The TV show Orange is the New Black comes to mind, particularlythe partwhen the main character, Piper Chapman, enters the jail for the first time. Her face conveyed an utter perplexity, and I feel the same emotion inside as I look around. I then realize that in order to control my mind, I actually imprison it. The essence of the problem is like this: Concepts such as self-discipline, willpower, and focus are directly related to controlling the mind. To build these skills, I confine the mind to a restricted space. For personal growth, I am now at the best place I could be.

That first night, as I lay on the bed, I looked at the high ceiling and the sockets in the walls. I looked at the monkeys entering the room and the empty beds around. None of it was familiar. The sound of the wind was new, and the smell of the bed was strange. Dhidam came next to me—she is used to first-night jitters. Since she smiles all the time, I behave like everything is normal. I am not telling her that it feels like my first night in jail. After a while, while watching the stars through the mosquito net, I don’t even realize as my eyes close for sleep. The next morning, I open my eyes to the sound of a bell, and it is 5:30 AM. Flash-forwarding from this moment to exactly one week later, I find myself successfully setting my mind to wake up before the bell rings. This is one of the first actions I take to gain control over my mind.

I am in a parallel universe. I don’t even feel a need to check my phone. I look inside and outside, and there is nothing I can find to communicate with the outside world. People are curious and ask how I am, but I have no idea how to answer or how I can describe the things I’m going through. Some of the topics that start wandering in my head make me repeat to myself, “no pain no gain,” and I remain silent to the people who are inquiring after me.

In this first week of ashram life, I was not only removed from speaking English but also the act of speaking itself. I am so busy with my mind and its inner conflicts that when someone asks a question, I ask them to repeat it at least twice. They see that I am not there. Dhidam just watches me from far away, knowing that I am so busy inside. Even before the week is over, I become aware of a hoard of things from the moment I look inside. Titles and attributes are stuck all over me. It does not matter who or what I am or from where I come. When I take off all my hats, I am a pure existence, consciousness, and wholeness.

Then there are the hand-washed clothes, the peculiar smell of the bed sheets, the old rusty bathtubs, the food eaten silently on the floor, the washing the dishes and cups, sweeping and the mopping of the floors, the yoga halls, and the cleansing of the washrooms. The ashram’s daily order is all in service of the main aim of transformation. Karma yoga comes like a slap in the face. (Karma yoga: This perception is based on serving all as much as possible by disregarding one’s own personal interests and desires.) In the ashram, I see that there is no need to attach anything to the works I would have called “unqualified” in my old corporate lifestyle. I learn to serve all in every way I can with all my heart.

Every moment here corresponds to another moment of change. Actually, it is not fair to describe all the experiences here as “change.” The more I surrender, the more I go through a transformation, and I watch all the things that are happening to me with amazement. Right at the moment that something gets assimilated, another thing knocks on my door. I have such active days, both physically and mentally, the like of which I have never experienced before. Without pausing to analyze any of them, I surrender more with each step. I go to see Dhidam in the boutique. Working in the boutique is her form of karma yoga. After dinner, we sit together with the cruel biting of the mosquitoes and squeeze out our life-stories within half an hour. Kalyani is still like a myth. Her name is everywhere, but physically she is not here, and it is not even clear when she will turn up.

The process I go through before I get used to the new system is just like a formal examination to test my patience, willpower, and openness to change. In the mornings, my legs suffer from pins and needles, and I wake up with my head falling down in meditation. My mind is a loose cannon with a similar intensity to Istanbul’s rush-hour traffic. The effort I exert to maintain my balance in the twice-practiced asana classes equals the efforts I make focusing my mind during meditations. (Asana: Yoga postures developed for steady and comfortable meditation and to activate some particular energy centers in the body.) Coffee, black tea, onion, garlic, eggs, bread, chocolate, cheese, and mushrooms are now non-existent in my new diet. I eat meals twice a day, and breakfast is so different to my usual one. Hot vegetable meals and rice are my staples. Although it causes me difficulty, I strictly obey the ashram lifestyle. After a while, I feel myself become a part of it.

One evening, the subject of discussion is the bad experiences we have had and how we can transform them into good ones. Swami Ji explains it from an unexpected standpoint by reciting the story of Steve Jobs. He was fired from his CEO job at Apple, but he transformed this bad experience into a new start. Deviating from the subject of discussion, something brings a moment of enlightenment. I had a previously formed perception of a Swami. In this conception, there was no place for a Swami that used to be a top-level CEO, such as Steve Jobs, to become active in social media with a tablet.

I cannot describe how graceful it is to watch the countless stars from such a peaceful place where all our conceptions are turned upside-down. When I raise my head toward the sky, there is just one thing that I utter in gratitude: I am (we are), existence, consciousness, and wholeness.