“This song was channelled by a woman called Teresa Matthews… from John Lennon.”
Ah yes, this is Glastonbury all right. Earlier on we had a song for balancing the root chakra and another which resonated with the heart. Daniella told us it was derived from the scale on which the Gregorian chants were based, before the church officially tampered with the musical scale and omitted the notes with healing vibrations.
“This song translates as ‘Flight of the Hummingbird’ and the hummingbird’s message is joy.”
It’s my first night at Shekin Ashram, where I am to spend the next week on a “Karma Yoga” (work) programme, living as part of the community. A concert is being held in the temple room. Daniella sits in half-lotus on a cushion, long brown hair tumbling over lily-white top and skirt, on which her guitar rests.
“This is my last song. It’s on a frequency called ‘La’ and it’s connected to our third eye chakra,”
“There’s a special offer on fairy dust in the psychic piglet!” Colette tells us excitedly over lunch. I laugh and write it down in my notebook, in a page titled “Glastonbury Quotes”. On a walk about town earlier I was delighted to overhear a fascinating conversation in the ‘Pilgrim Reception Centre’. The woman behind the small desk (‘Pilgrim Receiver’?) wished a “Happy Yule” to another woman with the same deep grey hair colourings, then asked how she would be spending it. “Oh, I’m going down to Somerset to do the family thing, you know, with my daughters – not for long though!” – she added quickly, (people don’t celebrate Crimbo in Glasters, that’s one thing we share in common) – “You know, I find it difficult to leave Glastonbury, I really do.” “Yes, I do know what you mean,” countered the Pilgrin Receiver, “but do you know what I do? I wear psychic protection spray!” “Ooh, do you really? How wonderful! What a good idea!”
The ashram, which also operates as a bed and breakfast, books up at special times of the year. Tellingly, there isn’t a single guest booked in for Christmas Day, but it’s rammed solid at the Solstice. I’m jolted awake on Winter Solstice morning at 6:30am by the hippos and elephants who are sharing my cabin. I scrunch my eyes tight as the light binks on and draw my covers around me. My alarm goes off at 7am, just as the last hippo leaves the room.
The only plan I made during this trip was to come to Chalice Well for Solstice. The gardens are usually £3.60 to enter, but on days like this it’s free. Around eight years ago I was here for Beltane, the Pagan May Day celebration which celebrates… well… sex, actually. It’s a fertility festival. My friend Katy and I seemed to be the only people without full-length velvet cloaks or Druidic robes. We cringed as a bard sang a song that went something like “gree-een maaaaaan…” Today I don’t stand out so much and the percentage of gowns is smaller. My karma yoga shift starts at 2pm so I can’t stay for the bonfire, ceremony and carols, but I’m in time for the meditation. We gather around the well in a circle, some on the cold grey steps, some on grass, some standing. A woman in pink stands in the centre by the well. She welcomes us and tells us of the cycle of the year, getting in a 2012 Mayan-calender-apocalypse mention and the Dawning of Aquarius of course. She also includes some astrological information – like where the sun is now (“just entered Capricorn, which we all need to bring our desires into reality”). We are all invited to share a song or a poem. Ah yes, this is what I remember. A terrible poem follows – tenuous rhyming with no pace and far too many words crammed into the lines. I wish for a secret dictaphone, too self-conscious to take out a pen and paper to make notes. “Always a hard one to follow”, says the woman when nobody volunteers anything else. Finally a man with a staff wearing lots of green and brown announces he wants to say something about 2012 – “These are critical times”, he warns us. “The powers of darkness are rising.” He invites us all to send positive energy into the Glastonbury water supply.
I am enjoying my karma yoga. They are being kind on me because of my still swollen sprained ankle, or perhaps they are just kind. Today’s list has my name at the top with little hearts drawn around it. I work my way through slowly. Karma Yogis are encouraged to work “in quiet contemplation.” I drag a chair out to the back kitchen and take all of the tins out, arranging them as I put them back – kidney beans to the left, stock powder and date syrup to the right… I fold laundry sitting at the kitchen table with a barley cup. I drag a finger along the kitchen shelves and finding them to be already clean, move along to the next task: incense. Ooh, goody. The next hour and a half is spent cross-legged on the floor of the office on cushions, surrounded by packets of incense, bagging them up according to a list: 7 Everest each in blue packets; 8 nag champas in black packets… My last half hour is spent dusting clean things in the ‘temple’ – the large room with the altar, where everything from morning puja to Daniella concert and all the yoga, meditation and tai chi classes take place. I take special care with the small framed photos of Amma and “Guru Dave”, the ashram founder’s gurus.
It’s the weekly Friday night bhajan and my last night at the ashram. Some people have come to lead the devotional singing. She sits on the left, two big red flowers setting off her dark mahogany brown hair, pink scarf about her neck. From the huge framed photo behind her, she could be Amma’s daughter. He sits on the right, turquoise t-shirt and matching scarf wrapped around his head as a turban. He looks as though he’s in pain, pounding a rhythm hard into the drums. He opened with a complex chant which rolled on for fifteen minutes or more, until I thought his voice would surely crack with the pressure and his throat along with it. His candle-cast shadow looks like an erratic pixie against the pink wall, the turban shape tapering like an over-sized acorn hat. The sweet powder smell of nag champa fills the room. Her voice soars and resonates deep with the drum. Then he takes over again: “I am not these conditionings, I am not these emotions, I am just a drop that’s disappearing in the ocean…” Without a doubt, these people are what ashram resident Prem would call, “Krishna’d up to the nines.”
It’s the end of my week at the ashram. A week without caffeine, without sugar and of course no alcohol… well, maybe a little sugar in the form of yummy spongy cakes. Apparently if the founders were here such things would never have happened, but they are away setting up a community in Argentina. Prem sits at the breakfast table, arms askance, eyes closed, head raised heavenward. He chants along with the ipod next to him – “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare…” He sighs deeply, smiles and opens his eyes – “I’m all Bhakti‘d up!”