My business was on a downward spiral, my health was alarmingly precarious, and my spiritual life was hanging by a thread. I had trouble breathing, trouble sleeping, and I had no idea if or how I could get through this nightmare of a so-called life.

At the urging of close friends, I took a two-month retreat at the Ananda Europa center near Assisi, Italy. Wanting to divert my mind from my problems, I asked to serve in the kitchen, even though I had never entered a kitchen in my sixty years. At home, my wife and our cook took care of the meals.

On my first day I was given a box of carrots to peel. I had no clue where to start. Without making me feel like an idiot, the kitchen staff took me under their wings, helping me lovingly and lightheartedly.

We chanted, we chatted, and we shared our life experiences. The cooks were always smiling, even when under heavy pressure to get out a hundred meals three times a day. Those of us in the service program quickly got into the spirit of doing things with joy. Day by day in their company I felt my burdens lightening and my veggie-cutting skills improving. I felt protected in a bubble of divine friendship.

I began going to the morning meditations every day, sitting from 7 to 8.30. It was a marathon at first – my knees hurt, my back was sore, and my shoulders were frozen. But I kept sitting day after day, opening my eyes from time to time and drawing inspiration from my spiritual brothers and sisters who were able to sit straight for hours without moving.

A day finally arrived when the pain ebbed and time flew – ninety minutes seeming like a half-hour. I was enjoying meditation, and day by day my identification with my problems melted away.

When my retreat stay ended, I was changed. Light had come back to my eyes, joy to my heart, and health to my body. Being with these kind, loving souls had saved my life.
–Rohit, New Delhi

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