The journey of a sceptical London City bank manager to spiritual coach and meditation teacher
With headset and microphone on the ready, I am sorting out the best wifi connection, waiting to get a Skype call from Ankur in London.
The first time I heard from Ankur was about four years ago in an email, asking OSHOinUK to publish the time and venue of the Osho Active Meditation class he was going to run at the London College of Spirituality. I was so thrilled to hear that a location in the very centre of London was offering the meditations.
After a few months a second email came, with mention that the location had to be changed because they needed a larger space! I raised my hat with a loud “Yahoo!” From my own experience in organising and running Osho’s meditations in various places in the world I can appreciate someone’s success. So the meditations moved to Synchronicity on the South Bank. And then, last spring, Ankur sent me the announcement of his new venture: the School of Awareness, which was launched with a big, typical Londoner, party.
When the call comes through I can hear him loud and clear. The voice immediately catches my heart. I feel so comfortable as his interviewer that I even start telling him my own stories which pop up in my memory. I feel he is somewhere ‘in the middle’, not leaning to any side. Our talk is pragmatic, factual, but much joy and gratitude transpires, nonetheless.
“So, how did it all start?” I asked.
In 2000 the bank he had worked for the last 15 years had been taken over by a bigger one. Being a manager he was asked to either move to Edinburgh or to take redundancy. He chose the latter and decided to buy an around-the-world ticket. “This was actually the first conscious decision in my life: to go travelling. Everything else – schools, colleges, even career – was kind of imposed on me.” He visited Africa, Southeast Asia, Australia, South America.
Then, in 2005, Ankur planned to travel from Nepal to Europe overland, and during that time there was the opportunity to visit India for a month. ‘By chance’ he met somebody in Mumbai who knew about the Meditation Resort in Pune. He visited with the intention of remaining there for a few days but, in the end, he stayed that whole month.
Being in Pune was a challenge for him: it was the first time in his life that he had ever meditated. He did Dynamic and Kundalini every day and all the meditations during the day if he was not involved in a workshop. Then there were the many rules (maroon robe, maroon bathing suit, white robe for the evening meditation), the high cost of food and accommodation compared to the rest of India. But, when he had to decide between staying or booking his train ticket, stay he did. In the past he had always listened to his mind, but now some faint voice was making itself heard: he needed to give it a try.
The workshops he participated in (‘Opening to Self Love’ with Anando, ‘Primal Feeling’ with Shakura, in particular) had a big impact on him. He then took sannyas “to have something tangible; not to forget the experience I had there, like a reminder.”
I ask him how his visits to Pune have influenced his life. “Osho has completely changed my life, my view of the world.” When he describes himself as the bank manager he was before, it is as if he is talking about somebody else: “Career, long working hours, after work to the pub socialising with colleagues, drinks, lots of drinks, football, badminton, cinema.” While he describes all this I am submerged in a grey world, as if watching a movie shot of a desolate landscape where the camera man has used a black filter. “But now I can appreciate everything that is around me, I see new opportunities. There is a different quality of life. I truly feel close to nature, to people; no longer in that superficial way.”
“What does Osho mean to me?” he repeats my question. “I could say many things about Osho, his words and his legacy. But fundamentally it comes down to two things, responsibility and freedom. Through him I know that if I am responsible for me and how I am in any moment then I have the freedom to live the life I truly want.”
After that first visit, Ankur visited Pune almost every year. More workshops like ‘Fresh Beginnings’ and subsequent trainings gave him the authority to start running groups himself. He is now offering ‘Heal Your Inner Child’ which he feels is particularly valuable for people living in London. Other group processes he developed himself: e.g. ‘Inner Personal Power’, ‘Ecstatic Dance Meditation’ (a fusion of dance and active meditation) and ‘Living in the Momen.’. His workshops are held mostly on Sundays so that busy Londoners can participate and still have their Saturdays for relaxation, shopping and other activities.
It is important for Ankur that the participants go away with an experience – not just a theory in their minds – and sometimes he teaches techniques which can be practised daily after the workshop is over. He says: “I want to deliver value to the people; I want them to go away with something and to know that they have got something out of it. This will also bring them back, hopefully.” Offering these workshops does not just allow him to pass on the techniques which have helped him personally, but also help him to remain focussed: “I need to walk the talk!”
We talk about practical matters, e.g. the income-based pricing structure he has adopted so that everybody, even those with limited budgets, can participate: “In the end it is not about money.” But I sense that his managerial skills have helped him not only to remain afloat but also to start his own school. Another topic was to find the ideal venue, possibly back in the centre of town (and not in South London where he is now – which for the North Londoners seems like beyond the channel, i.e. on another planet); a place where loud music can be played and even loud Dynamic can be held.
“Things have grown organically, without a plan. People have come to the classes via our website and other channels, but mostly by word of mouth. And many have become regulars at the meditations. The London Osho Active Meditations Meetup Group now has over 500 members, not all of whom join us, but it is a good base to draw from and shows there is a high level of interest in Osho’s Meditations (most people not having tried them before but having read his books).”
The School of Awareness was founded to create a new space for things to happen, for new people to get involved. “We will shortly link with other sannyasins to offer a wider variety of workshops and courses. Getting the word out is always the most challenging part and takes much of my time (which I would rather devote to running more meditations and creating and facilitating more workshops…).”
Last summer Ankur was asked to organise two to three Osho Active Meditations a day in a tent in the healing fields during the Glastonbury Festival. “It was a great experience, though it was so hot during the festival that not many people wanted to sit in a tent for a whole hour. So we improvised a bit, and took them outside for the more active parts and whirled and danced outside the meditation tent – to the bewilderment of some! We also found that many people were passing through, so as well as running the usual full one-hour Osho Active Meditations we engaged people on the spot in Laughing Meditations and Gibberish, which proved very successful and many joined in. Maybe it helped with the Gibberish that the festival goer’s minds were already part-scrambled anyway!”
All I can say is, “Fantastic success so far, Ankur! Surely the future brings even more.”