Forget flying halfway around the world to find happiness. Christine Garvin shows you how to look locally.

Photo by Claude Renault

Much like the billion others who read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, I fought the immediate urge to chuck my job, rent, friends and credit card bills and book the first available flight to India so that I could meditate all of my problems away.

And my cross-continental spiritual journey might have become reality, if only I had found a credit card that still had room for a $2,000 ticket.

Ah, the romantic notion of becoming a different person by simply sitting in silence in an ashram for eight hours a day, doing a couple of hours of work seva, and eating vegetarian meals cooked by committed spiritual disciples-what could be better?

Well, knowing myself a bit more and jumping a little less quickly than I did at 22, I realized this situation wasn’t exactly, well, feasible at this point in my life.

I needed to finish my Masters thesis, I had already taken a long trip abroad the previous year that left me quite penniless, and the student loans were coming due.

Oh, and I didn’t have a job, which in theory may seem like a good reason to take a spiritual jaunt across the world, but in actuality makes it hard to afford the plane ticket.

Enlightenment Abroad

What is our Western obsession with India and spirituality?

What is our Western obsession with India and spirituality?

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that India is the birthplace of Buddhism (very spiritual), that many Indians are wrapped in saris and marked with bindis (somehow denoting a religious attitude).

But do we really need to travel halfway around the world in order to get some of this spiritual grace, some of this contentedness, some of this sanity?

Without money to get to the Golden Temple, I decided I might try to get myself a piece of spiritual action in my own neck of the woods.

Looking Locally

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, so ashrams are a dime a dozen. Pick a spiritual/religious affiliation and press play.

There’s the Buddhist Zen Center in the middle of a hipster neighborhood in San Francisco, and another out in the rolling hills of upper-crust Marin County; there’s the Hindu Siddha Yoga Ashram in Oakland whose website gives information about where to stay locally, but advises “walking from the hotel is not recommended”.

Or if I wanted, I could study meditation, dreams and out-of-body experiences at the non-denominational Berkeley Gnostic Center.

If you’re looking for similar local inspiration, you may be curious about how I actually found these places.

Ask Your Friends

Photo byLumiere

For me, word-of-mouth worked wonders: if you talk about your quest for spiritual enlightenment, people are bound to perk up with their opinions about how best to go about getting there.

If you ask in the right circles, you will be surprised how many people have gone on their own journey of self-discovery who may not have discussed it for fear of other’s reactions.

If you notice one particular place seems to come up over and over again; if you are constantly being bombarded about one center, a person might liken it to synchronicity in the works.

Ask The Internet

Then take your research to the web-just because spiritual organizations are above human vices, they are rarely above technology that pulls in more people to their way of living.

This is a good time to find out some more in-depth information about different practices, especially if you aren’t yet sure which one you are drawn to most.

Find Your Comfort Level

I decided on participating in a young adult’s week-long meditation retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA, partly because of hearing about the center from person after person, and partly because their website so clearly defined the retreat process, the facilities, and the sliding scale costs (and financial aid if needed).

Cost shouldn’t be a hindrance, and most of the larger spiritual centers work from this belief. Be sure to ask about financial assistance or the possibility of paying on a sliding scale.

Scour Your Block

You might even stumble upon a free group that could be meeting right next door to your house (or as it turned out in my case, three doors down).

If you ask in the right circles, you will be surprised how many people have gone on their own journey of self-discovery.

Don’t forget to check out the front area of your local grocery store. There’s usually a large cork board where local people hang advertising fliers – this board is an untapped resource for making connections with a spiritual group.

Spiritual groups tend to meet monthly or even weekly, and as with most everything else, community plays an important role in both developing and sticking to your practice.

Do I do yoga at home? Sometimes. Do I do it for half as long or with half as much effort as when I go to a yoga class? Not even close.

You may have to hunt a little to find what you are looking for, but persistence pays off, especially if you don’t have the time or money to make a trip out of town.

Home Sweet Home

Finally, don’t forget that there is a corner of most of our homes that either has a half-dead plant sitting in it, or is simply filled with dusty magazines, most likely including a TV Guide dating from 1988.

Clearing even a small area in a spare room or your bedroom to create a “sacred space,” whatever that means to you, can be both a mental and physical reminder to slow down and sit in the mystery.

I have an altar in the corner of my bedroom that holds artifacts from many of my travels, quite a few derived from different spiritual sects, and others are simple items such as a rock from a trip to Santa Cruz, or a nut from a forest in Germany.

The Truth About Spirituality

Anything can be spiritual if you make that connection. Because I have to see the altar on my way to bed, I often stop to light a candle and sit in front of it for 10 minutes or so before crawling under the covers. What a difference this little (non-pesky) habit makes.

In my case, some time after I felt that urge to visit India, I began to realize I was depending on an exotic destination to instill something in me that I should be able to find anywhere, because essentially, it is something that already resides within me.

Take the pressure off of yourself to become that yogic, enlightened being in “30 short days,” our American mantra for self-improvement, and let the little movements make the big changes.

And save that $2,000 ticket for after monsoon season.

What are your tips for finding spirituality at home? Share in the comments!

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