A promising-looking four-month retreat at the late Swami Satchidananda’s Yogaville in Buckingham, Virginia, USA, presented surprising obstacles to Mahika Mahiya.
Kicked out of Yogaville’s Satchidananda Ashram for snoring on her first night there, Mahika draws a parallel to the very disappointing ‘Wild Wild Country’ film portrayal, only because the filmmakers completely missed the Master’s meaning, as did the managerial staff at Yogaville. All names have been changed to protect the innocent in her first-person account of “Yogavillians – A Farce.”
I’ve heard the Ranch in Oregon was wild, but anything is tame compared to my experience of the institutional narcissism of Satchidananda Ashram – Yogaville. For a year I had planned to enjoy a long immersion in the ‘Mild Mild Country’ of Yogaville. But like other ashrams with a peaceful veneer, it was anything but mild. The sacred teachings of love and service were trashed by long-timer Yogavillians who had ascended to positions of power after Swami Satchidananda of Woodstock fame left his body and considerable assets in 2002. My much-anticipated retreat of four months lasted barely four days, translating subjectively as 4,000 dog years, that is, downward dog years, to be precise. It was unbearable.
Upon my arrival, the glistening snow-covered campus seemed like the holodeck of yogic perfection. Slender trekkie-like figures glided by, wearing white and projecting spiritual perfection. As the morning sunshine illuminated the freshly fallen snow, it was easy to forget how darkest shadow hides in the brightest light. The crystallized forest was dazzling but I felt a vague restriction in my soul. It was quiet in an uptight way. Intuition sent the first alert: Void of color, laughter, song, dance, and eros. Light-years away from free sex, Yogaville was utterly sex-free. My gut said, “Run! Run!”
When Satchidananda left his body sixteen years ago, he apparently left behind a few heavy-hitting power trippers to run his illuminated vision into the ground. Like any ashram fumbling after the Master leaves his body, it seemed Yogaville’s dark side had unapologetically taken over. Meeting only a few staffers, I encountered position-crazed devotees, lacking business skill, compassion, conscience, and grace. Did these strict vegetarians lie in wait for fresh human meat? Would they really do battle over newly arrived souls and their wallets?
Before I got stuck in the ashram’s sticky shadow, the forested sanctuary had seemed like a “mild, mild country,” a yogic Oz, and a place of healing. I had good intentions of helping the ashram raise money to repair Swami Satchidananda’s amazing but dilapidated Lotus Shrine designed to celebrate the unity in all religions and create interfaith harmony. Even after this nightmare, my heart still tells me that Satchidananda intended to create harmony with all of humanity, even those of us who snore and fart in our sleep.
Much to my horror, and within my first hour there, I could see that Yogaville’s Living Yoga Training (LYT) program, contrary to marketing hype, was really a way to create a virtually free labor force that would acquiesce to inhumane treatment by the ruling class Yogavillians. I was thinly greeted by the ashram’s Candy Bullmoose, draped in white. Spitting nails, Candy’s first words stung my hopeful face. She said, “Even though you have paid for this work-study experience, you are not a customer, not a guest, and certainly not staff.” Ouch, that was a yogic bitch-slapping, I thought to myself. Scraping my second chakra off the floor, I put all of my guts back inside. Steadying myself, I remained friendly.
Like a joyful, new neighbor, I asked, “Hey, Candy, where is everybody? Where are all the guests?” Candy bristled then hissed, “Winter.” Yikes, I thought, that introduction was nice-nasty. She’s Yogaville’s Welcome Wagon and she would cut-a-bitch.
“Winter” was the only reason solemnly given why most dormitories were blacked out and resoundingly empty. All of the vacancies meant that we, the new participants, each shared a four-bed dormitory room with one other person. The dorm bathroom was truly icky and the bedrooms were home to swarms of insects dive-bombing the new innocents.
Together at meal time in the dining hall, patricians and plebeians collectively chomped large, crunchy salads, breaking silence under portraits of many Enlightened Ones – except for Osho, whose image I carried in my heart. The large portraits above us seemed to calmly witness the fussy “can’t have” eaters in the anorexic, gluten-free circus below. In all fairness, the indentured servants kept a clean kitchen that made good food. At meal’s end, dishes were washed with very hot water. A good sign, I thought.
Prior to my acceptance there, I had barely passed a nagging, needling phone interrogation by long-timer Yogavillian Perfumi. Over and over she clipped my words and warned me not to be too enthusiastic when talking about Osho during the extended stay. How odd, I thought. Red flag. My constitutional freedoms were already at risk. Not even in kindergarten had I ever been censored, and as an adult, not even by difficult CEOs at work. I assured Perfumi several times that I was a healthy adult with clear boundaries and a strong sense of appropriate communication. Totally baffled by the conversation, I prayed I would never again have to deal with this repetitive whiner with no boundaries. I brushed off the ridiculous gatekeeper conversation as the current price of yoga and silence in 600-acres of beautiful forest.
Adding rocket fuel to the cray-cray craziness, the Yogavillians began the LYT program during an all-staff Silent Retreat in which no one could speak for a week, or else. Making newcomers play a week of ‘charades’ was beyond-stupid planning and a surreal non-welcome. Like a full chess board bucking in an earthquake, the schedule was constantly rumbling so we could not find the right times and places for anything. In stage whispers, sign language, and hand-scrawled notes, I would try to politely clarify when and where required cleanups and classes were held. After all, we were being judged, non-judgmentally, of course, on a daily basis, mostly to see if we were future slave material and could be easily disempowered and controlled by Perfumi and friends. In wobbly sign language, my arms flailed, asking: “Was I tricked into months of indentured servitude?” But no one understood.
The program schedule was packed with 16-hour days of work assignments, yoga and meditation at a variety of venues. When newcomers pressed for real times and real locations, ethereal human figures dressed in white reluctantly responded in coarse whispers, “Well, we used to have meditation in Hall B, at 5:30pm, before Swami Doodoo died, but now we have it in Hall A at 6:30pm when Reverend Kerflooee can make it, but her kid is out of town with a new man so that is throwing her into a mood swing, and since it is Silent Retreat week we are having meditation in the LOTUS Temple, according to Swami Fixyourcarforsex, but I don’t really know what time. Maybe someone else knows.” Many permutations of this maddening answer echoed around the campus so I ended up just walking around the forest until I heard an “OM” emanating from a nearby building. Could anyone possibly be in charge? My gut instinct was “Run! Run!”
Without the consciousness of a living Master in situ, Yogaville ashram felt like a super-repressed spiritualized mafia that was maintained – not for truth, love and service – but to get away from all the other social mafias. From our first moment together, Candy Bullmoose bore a hole into my third eye with her unblinking stares, an alpha male sales tactic used to gain psychic control and close deals in the universe of Trump. My gut said, “Watch out” but I continued to roll with her sweety-sweet ‘love and light’ surface expressions. Her outer did not match her inner. Candy was clearly on the fast track to toxic power, led by her boss, none other than the dreaded Perfumi. Together, the Mean Team targeted me as easy prey, a sensitive puffball they could hustle. These gals were real operators – and probably worked on commission given their strong-arm approach.
Despite the Week-o-Silence, we had a few group sessions where the anointed would give “spiritual discourses.” The non-farcical truth is far worse than farce, so out of compassion, it will remain a secret. Thank goodness I have sat at the feet of masters who can form complete thoughts and resolve sentences. The talks were mostly embarrassing self-promotions and reminders that someone was high up in the organization and sitting close to the Yogavillian money-money-money. These talks were terribly painful to sit through and disrespectful to us as newcomers being used as commodity to fuel a desperate ego. I tried to remain present but exited into daydreams where my friends, Love and Truth, had skipped class. The yoga police caught them screwing on the holodeck under a magical snowfall.
As a recovering business person, I expected some modicum of quality, preparation, respect, and accountability. Was anyone possibly in charge? I Googled for Yogaville’s leadership and quickly learned they don’t answer or return phone calls! How they could ignore or condone such madness? What had happened to the loving legacy of Swami Satchidananda?
On my first afternoon at Yogaville, I entered my dormitory bedroom to find a beautiful young artist, Crystal Clear, crying bitterly, on an exhausted mattress. Flying insects circled her head searching for a place to nest in her long blonde hair. A wonderful painter, Crystal had just driven a thousand miles to join the repressed circus. But after 5 minutes on campus and the same nice-nasty down-dressing welcome, she too felt strangled by ambient shadows. We took a short drive up the mountain to the Lord Shiva statue where she began to wail, “I don’t want to be here! I hate it here!” Remembering Osho with total gratitude for my path, I re-minded her that she was utterly free and to just follow her heart. Through a storm of tears, she finally voiced her truth. All she really wanted was to go home and paint. I said, “Run! Run!” And she did. She got back in her little car and drove away.
Already blaming me with their stern stares, Perfumi and Candy interrogated our group, despite the Week-o-Silence, as to why Crystal Clear had left abruptly – there was an obvious price on her head as her absence represented a loss of money-money-money. Determined to have my peaceful rejuvenation, no matter what, I secretly celebrated Crystal’s escape with stern silence. After dinner, I felt good about getting through the first day and navigating around shadows well enough.
But that night, I am told, I committed a high sin of tsunami force that threatened to demolish the hallowed halls of Yogaville.
My super-neurotic roommate, Molly Shouldabeenalesbianbutnowitstoolate, was a classic shit-disturber. In a private meeting with Perfumi, Molly secretly ratted on me and made a huge deal out of it. By mid-morning the next day, Perfumi and Candy urgently summoned me to The Office, no reason given. It sounded like “death in the family” news so I arrived, bracing for the worst. Deranged Candy Bullmoose glared at me with an icy stare. Red-faced and trembling, she faltered in her springy yoga body before blasting me with utter condemnation, “YOU… SNORED.”
The demented confrontation was so strange that I inadvertently burp-squealed a surprised sound like “Wha-huh?” Suppressing explosive laughter derailed by huge relief that no one had died, I felt time stop as I studied Candy’s sullen face and shaking hands. I could not recognize this universe and watched in silence. Furious Candy wanted a confession, now. I was floored and could not speak. Her practiced flogging escalated to an all-time high. I finally said, “You’re kidding, right?” She and Perfumi were obviously used to playing mean-mother to miscreant teenage slaves they had lured and captured. “We don’t snore here. It’s disgusting. You can’t snore here,” Candy Bullmoose hissed, like Nurse Ratched from Cuckoo’s Nest. Still stunned, I repeated, “You’re kidding, right?” Another arctic blast and staring silence.
Witnessing took hold. Because Candy Bullmoose was young and unaware of her own megalomania, I softened, hoping to reach through somehow. But Candy was way too big for her yoga pants and stayed righteous in her addiction to perfection. Finally, I told her she was out of line and asked her to stop being harsh and punitive.
Interrupting my peaceful retreat, more strange discussions, phone calls, and meetings continued for days. Candy and Perfumi would not soften. These were rough gals on a high-stakes Yogavillian throwdown to ambush a new soul. Meanwhile, I did express a sincere apology to my roomie, Molly Shouldabeenalesbianbutnowitstoolate, and asked her to help me scientifically classify the offending human sound. Molly devised a sliding scale and said the snore was slight, like a “breeze in the reeds” as opposed to a more serious disturbance like “mentally ill fish singing gospel favorites under water,” and certainly not a classic ten “barn demolition” get-the-fuck-outta-my-life snore. This made me feel way better.
Hoping to cut through the cray-cray, I tried for a quick, fair solution, requesting the obvious from Perfumi and Ms. Bullmoose: “How about this… Move me to an empty dorm room. There are plenty of them. Remember all those vacancies? It’s WINTER.” But they refused. I said, “Okay, let’s move Molly to an empty dorm room. She’s eager to please and she’ll love the attention for making a beneficent sacrifice. It’s a win-win-win-win.” “NO,” Candy spurted. “You have to move to a private cabin and pay double.”
I now understood why all the darkened dorms were empty, and they couldn’t blame it on Ol’ Man Winter. Not so much a bait and switch, this was a bait and catch-u-snore then switch, to double the cost of your room. I said no thanks to Yogaville’s price gouging and reminded them the same-price ashram dorms were completely empty. Enforcing my new slave status, Candy hissed, “Vacant dorms are reserved for guests and you are not a guest.” But the guests never arrived. Waiting for me to cave in, Perfumi and Candy exerted more pressure and humiliation attempts for three days. I solidly asked them to apologize for the harsh treatment and make reasonable accommodation.
Meanwhile, my roommate, Molly Shouldabeenalesbianbutnowitstoolate, apologized for being such a moron and wanted to be besties. Already influenced by the local mafia vibe, I coarsely muttered, “Fuggetta bowdit.” My forgiveness then opened an emotional door for Molly. She boldly asked if I would let her “re-fold” all the panties in my suitcase and then join her for coffee. My spirit hurled to a distant galaxy a quick, etheric up-chuck, as my mouth auto-replied, “Oh, gosh, my calendar is packed for the next 60 to 70 million years but maybe after that.”
This was only Day 2.
This grotesque ashram-gone-wrong was like a Salvador Dali painting of a grand temple of light melting into gruesome madness. The few staff members that I met or tried to communicate with were far more greedy and aggressive than Hawaii’s timeshare sales extortionists, the ones who shake down innocent tourists on Kona Beach. My only refuge was the campus coffee shop where I queried a cool barista, Billy Ijustworkhere. When I asked about the locally-accepted insanity, he replied, “Yes, it’s totally insane, and this coffee shop is the only bridge between Yogaville and Reality.”
On my last day, Day 4, at Yogaville, the Mean Girls swooped in to double-team me at the lunch table, taking seats right across from me. They turned up the heat. Staring at each other, we all chomped loudly on crispy, crunchy salads under the watchful eyes of Swami Satchidananda’s smiling portrait. Tension ballooned as we grazed heartily without speaking. Chewing and chomping, Candy and Perfumi both rudely stared at my third eye. As I ate, I actually put my hand over my forehead to stop them from locking on. By now, they knew that I knew that they knew that I knew. And I would not be trapped as their “downee” in their animal hierarchy of dominance. The Enlightened portraits in the dining hall then witnessed the highest pressure manipulation and worst shaming attempts I have ever heard – even worse than rotten parents, dangerous attorneys and toxic car dealers.
As lunch ended, I knew it was going to get even rougher when Perfumi did a mafia head-snap “that-a-way,” directing me to join them at the back of the darkened dining hall. “Why not the alley?” I wondered aloud. I was really scared but a few of my indentured servant friends were on cleanup duty so I knew they could hear me if I screamed loudly.
In the dark corner, Candy and Perfumi prepared to play “bad cop – worse cop,” but I pulled an old corporate move and spoke first to gain control. “Thank you both for meeting with me on such short notice. You have both really helped me understand aversion and I truly appreciate learning from you all that love is not,” I said firmly. Stonefaced Candy sounded like a bratty Valley Girl, “Well, um, we think people who snore have, well, issues (pronounced like two hard words, ISH-YOOS).” Perfumi chimed in from a purely private dimension, “Oh yes, everyone knows that snoring means there’s something really wrong with you that you REALLY need to work on.” I thanked them for their feedback and said, “Girls, I just don’t see me through your eyes. Just not buying it or your private cabin coercion upsell.” More icy stares, mouth sounds like “tsk, tsk, tsk,” and big frowns of parental disapproval.
Just when I was close to rolling over from their shaming tactics, the Mother of Existence burst through my heart with fresh, wild love. I rallied to defend the most basic human rights of a secret, worldwide network of people who knowingly or unknowingly snore and fart in their sleep. Filling up from a mystical source, I spoke deeply and firmly as if addressing the tribunal of the International Court: “Almost every human being on the planet we call Earth occasionally snores or farts a little bit at night, excluding present company – whose shit does not stink. And while it’s true that we think way less of the offending person the next day, the human species generally has an innate sense of “daytime-forgiveness” that takes over at dawn and helps us forget the nighttime offense – it preserves world peace and protects the vast majority of our species. As the morning sun rises, the night offense typically fades from Mind. Most human beings tend to offer the offender a kind of Snore & Fart Forgiveness because, the next time, it could be any of us, even you, and be sure, there will be smartphone video to prove it.” The pair of bee-otches recoiled.
I reminded them of their own Master, who had blessed the opening of Woodstock in 1969 with an acknowledgement of the “beauty of human sound-making.”
“Yogavillians,” I implored, “Please listen with your original heart-ears! These primal sounds are Nachtmusik for your entertainment, like little jokes, or Zen koans, or even New Age trumpets. After all, we are all part of one universal family, intended to live in harmony.”
Wearing a gold top, emphasis on the gold, Perfumi slumped in her chair. Leaping to Shakespeare’s immortal words as a last effort to preserve my long-awaited retreat, I implored:
“‘The quality of mercy is not strain’d, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.’ Have you never, ever lightly or occasionally snored?”
“NEVER,” they replied.
My third eye was molten hot but the rough gals could not break me. Witnessing, I slowly repeated their words to help them heal their craziness: “So it sounds like you’re insisting that a customer, consumer, guest, participant, servant, person now pays double for accommodation because snoring is a punishable offense at Yogaville.” Perfumi began to lie about what I had agreed to in the degrading phone interview. She clamored, “I took notes. I took notes!” (Yeah, right.) Totally tuckered out, Perfumi finally said, “Well, there is one other solution… You can… well… leave. Yes, leave.” Candy flashed a vampire-jubilant grin. Perfumi sat disheveled and discombobulated. The Mean Team got up and left the table. Love and light.
Time passes. Lots of time. I am still waiting for an apology, a copy of my signed agreement, and a refund. Lord Peeva and Swami Hybridcarbliss did not return phone calls, not even one. McWhathapha did not respond. Love and light, love and light.
Funny only after the fact, the spiritual darkness of people who claim to be conscious and have a close connection with Swami Satchidananda hit me hard as I left the dining hall. I had come to offer much-needed fundraising help while getting myself in shape. I felt sad, hurt, and confused. The divine fragrance of Satchidananda had vanished and my rejuvenation had been cut short by a few spiritualized bullies.
As I left the dining hall, Wise One, a beautiful teacher, stopped me and asked why I was crying. She invited me to talk. Her jaw dropped as I told her all that I had endured. In the awkward silence that followed, the portrait of Swami Satchidananda became even more vivid. Love, real love, seemed to swirl between us. Wise One touched my Osho mala with great tenderness. When I started to defend Osho, she lovingly stopped me. No need. She understood. I confessed I had made a huge mistake in choosing Yogaville when I could have spent time in an Osho meditation retreat with non-serious friends.
With great compassion, Wise One searched the ceiling for a long time, then said, “My dear, you’re supposed to be with your Master. That’s what Existence is doing. Run! Run!” And I did. I left immediately and made the Osho program just in time. With god as my passenger, I sped across the miles chanting a new and improved mantra: “Hurry home! Hari Om! Hurry home! Hari Om!” Freedom tasted especially sweet on the outside.
After my dishonorable discharge, I felt a wave of gratitude for Wise One and a few other beautiful people there. I really appreciate one incredibly gifted and brilliant yoga teacher, a healer, who was the embodiment of superhuman love. In only one class, he made a huge difference to my soul. There was another truly happy guy I didn’t say goodbye to or fare-thee-well. A dazzling light came through his laughing eyes in our few moments of sharing inner sky.
I have tried for reasonable communication and fair treatment from Yogaville, but to no avail. Yogavillians can’t deal with people they do not control. Long-timer Swami Hybridcarbliss emailed me that surely a harmonious solution would be possible, meaning that Yogaville would be happy to keep my money-money-money, and they did. I then received literally hundreds of hang up and crank phone calls in the two months following the Yogavillian boot. Hmmmm. Possibly indentured servants were ordered to perform a harassment dial-a-thon? Yogic Instructions: Dial, hang up, repeat, and breathe slowly with loving awareness, of course. I had to change my phone number.
Yogaville is able to operate well below housing, hotel, and business standards as a non-profit church and trust entity unbeholden to any code of law, business ethics, civil conduct, and not even the Attorney General’s Office. In other words, long-timer Yogavillians exploit all loopholes to avoid accountability. Set up as a church in the middle of nowhere, answering to no one, not even the values of their own spiritual master, it is technically legal to rip off nice people and treat innocent people like crap, and they do! Websites are full of reports about the Satchidananda Ashram – Yogaville, built and maintained on the backs of exploitable young people as cheap labor in a poverty-stricken area.
After researching the dirt, I understood why the leaders think leadership is acting like abusive parents shaming a “bad, bad kid.” News reports show that Yogavillians have devoured the life force of marginalized and disadvantaged helpers for decades. They are surprised when anyone empowered arrives and wants to actually take a healthy, wholesome retreat there. The few staff members I met did not have the most basic skills or grace to meet an outsider as an equal person of value. Apparently, Perfumi and others have grown accustomed to abusing work-study volunteers who take crap because they can’t afford to leave. The leadership’s unconscious pattern of reverting to abusive parental behavior has thwarted and trapped both uppees and downees.
As for Truth, the reason I went there in the first place: Founder of Yogaville and Integral Yoga, Swami Satchidananda says: “The goal and the birthright of all individuals is to realize the spiritual unity behind the diversity throughout creation and to live harmoniously as members of one universal family. This goal is achieved by the maintaining of our natural condition as:
- a body of optimal health and strength
- senses under total control
- a mind well disciplined, clear, and calm
- an intellect as sharp as a razor
- a will as strong and pliable as steel
- a heart full of unconditional love and compassion
- an ego as pure as crystal, and
- a life filled with supreme peace, joy and bliss.”
In trashing their Master and thrashing his legacy of divine love, the Mild Mild Country of Yogaville failed miserably as did the film ‘Wild Wild Country’, and that’s why we meditate and pray, and pray some more. May the Light overcome the Darkness.
Excerpted from Mahika Mahiya’s new book “Yogavillians – A Farce” © 2018, coming soon from Oceanic Media.