The details of my life before Babaji are not significant for this article – except to say that yoga changed the life I was living in 1976. I had been teaching in the Inner City London Ghetto Failing Schools on “stress supply”. What hope did those kids have growing up with such a label? That was the year yoga came into my life. My first exposure to yoga was through Sanskrit; I loved the alphabet! I was mad about alphabets (still am). When Raghunath and Janaki began to teach me about Babaji, my own opinion was that I needed no guru; I was to be my own guide! I wasn’t a seeker; I had already found my spirituality. I felt from an early age that God was with me and I was with God. Everyday life was baffling for me; I lived in my inner life.
When I began going to Raghunath and Janaki’s spacious flat for dinner, I loved their food and realized I could become a vegetarian. My mom said yoga saved her; she didn’t have to worry about my nutrition anymore. All I ate before was oranges and cheese – and sometimes a whole loaf of bread at one sitting. So the first thing that beckoned to me was vegetarianism. The second thing was asana. I hadn’t understood athletics or formal dance, but I loved to move my body – pity Miss Goat, my athletics and dance teacher. When I discovered asanas, I was home at last! Now I had vegetarianism and asana, but the thing that was the tipping point for me was ritual; I had never had that in my life before. I was also much drawn into a group of people longing for community, getting back to the land, growing their own food and bringing their children up in nature.
Fast forward to Vancouver: I followed Raghunath and Janaki three months after they had returned to Vancouver. I came on a five-month visa with a tiny backpack and no cash. I had hand-sewn quilts and sold them to make the airfare. So in 1978 I joined Dharma Sara. My relationship with Babaji began by correspondence while I was still in England. I had asked him for a Sanskrit name and its meaning. He wrote back, “Usha: the light that comes to take away the darkness of ignorance.” My first reaction was “That’s quite something to live up to!” I still feel that way. Babaji explained that the sounds of Sanskrit are sacred and have influence. The word you hear most often in your life is your name, so Babaji will sometimes choose for you a name whose sounds will have a beneficial influence on your spiritual development. That letter was my first portal to accepting Babaji. It was a wordless feeling, an otherworldly experience. It connected me to my father’s daily spirituality that until then I had taken for granted.
In Vancouver what drew me into Dharma Sara at first was arati at satsang. How I loved ritual! I also loved kirtan for the experience of singing in a different language. I loved finding that getting away from the meaning of words takes you to a deeper meaning. I was immediately and deeply involved in every aspect of Dharma Sara, one of which was the Land Committee. For me it was a way to see B.C., with people packed into vans. I loved every minute of it! I never wanted it to end, unlike everybody else who wanted to find a piece of land – so, in 1981 when we found the 69 acres that became the Salt Spring Centre, for me that was a let-down – no more trips! But I grew to appreciate the Land with such a deep passion, and I love it being called the Centre because it is also my centre.
For years people had been asking me to start a school, and I resisted. Among other reasons, I didn’t think of myself as a teacher anymore; I thought of myself as a yogi (even though I was teaching yoga at retreats as Babaji had instructed me to do). In 1982, in a weak moment, I asked Babaji what I should do, and he said, “Start the school.” I said, “Babaji, you know I was a high school teacher. I don’t know how to teach children how to read, to write, to count.” He smiled and said, “Do it.” I agreed to start the school – but said that after a year the school would continue without me. Babaji shrugged. Of course it didn’t turn out that way. I was very self-consciously conscientious about spending a year planning, but within three weeks of being among 6, 7 and 8 year olds, I was hooked for life. I had found my dharma. Babaji had known it all along, of course.
Babaji’s answer to every question I asked was, “You can do it.” Some help! When he began writing on his chalkboard, “Usha can do it” and showed it to others, I stopped asking. It was quite something to find that Babaji trusted me completely, allowing me to be my own guide. The gift that Babaji gave to me was that all self-questioning and self doubt went away, knowing the universe is unfolding as it will whether I recognize it or not. Holding awareness of that is how I’ve lived ever since.
My involvement is different now, but I remain the founder of the school, the leader of its ceremonies and a guide whenever needed – regardless of what I do or don’t do, Babaji is always with me. My life at the Centre has been such a joy!