Let the journey begin

We can keep our lives static or we can always be open to explore. What do you choose?


In April 1997 I moved to India, looking for a way to live my life more honestly. I wanted to merge the person I was in my work life with who I was in my personal life. With this agenda, I signed up for a 3-week package holiday in Kovalam, Kerala. I remember having just reached my hotel and standing on the verandah—it immediately felt like a homecoming and tears rolled down my cheeks. I had carried with me a journal and taped to its cover was a quote:

Let the journey begin, let it be magical.

The way has been prepared, people are expecting you.

In hindsight, that is exactly how it was. As soon as I landed in India, I met all the people who would help me make this country my home. A number of those people continue to remain a part of my life even today. I imagined I would never leave Kovalam, I believed it to be home. And I did stay back.

Swimming against the tide is never easy, but life may call us sometimes to take ‘radical’ decisions; to go against our cultural upbringing and instilled belief system, to move away from our comfort zone and do what our heart knows is correct.

Deciding to live in a community

For 10 years I ran yoga and massage holidays in Kerala, using my home as the venue and accommodating 3 – 4 guests each time. It was a small enterprise, but I was able to support myself and pay the rent. Outwardly social and inwardly reclusive, I was able to recharge my batteries in the quiet monsoon months.

Some difficulties in my personal relationships, first led me to explore a silent meditation retreat in Tamil Nadu. It was a healing, insightful and rewarding experience for me. I visited the same centre more than 10 times in 2 years, but I was sure that prolonged community living was not my cup of tea. Yet, sometime in 2007, a seed had been planted in my mind to do that very thing. I sat with the question of whether or not I should journey again, give up my income and move into a centre as a community member.

I grappled with the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ of this decision, I worried about all the logistics and had long internal debates.

At an imperceptible moment, suddenly there were no more questions, just a decisive yes… do it! All the ‘hows’ were no longer given any credence; I left them to take care of themselves and for faith and trust to take care of me.

In 2006, Fr AMA Samy accepted me as his disciple and shortly after that I became a staff member at the centre. So, from 2007 until mid 2012 I lived at Bodhi Zendo, a Zen Centre near Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu, South India. I simply followed the flow and stopped all resistance.

It was the most rewarding experience for me, providing amongst other things, a steep learning curve in community living!

Moving from community living to being on my own

More recently, something called me to move on again and I sat with the question of whether or not I should leave Tamil Nadu and return to Kerala to live on my own. It was the same scenario; I sat and I worried about if I really wanted to journey again and of the logistics of it all. The internal debates continued for about 18 months. When I finally had the courage to voice my need to journey on, ‘life’ supported me and the questions were answered.

It was a hard transition finding myself in a new situation, concerned again with supporting myself financially and being responsible for house maintenance.

The spiritual journey is often portrayed as a life of bliss but this is a fallacy. I went through some dark weeks, doubted my ability and had serious concerns about how I would manage. There are difficulties in community living too, but there is always support holding us up.

On a deeper level, I did not regret leaving the known for the unknown and hung on to faith and trust to help me. I knew that once a ‘sitting group’ was established the rest would fall into place. Sitting with a group gives us the chance to connect with one another on a profound level without the need for words. Someone asked me what I got from sitting. I replied that it reminds me of who I’m not!

I myself do not understand why my journey took the routes it did, or why it is so important for me to practise zazen. When I sit together with a group, I understand a little more. The support found in group sitting is incalculable. I am thankful to all the turns that my life has taken, for those have brought me to the place I am today.

Be willing to journey!

This was first published in the April 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Karen Sivan
Karen Sivan is a aromatherapist trained from the Tisserand Institute in London. For five years she lived at a Zen Centre; Bodhi Zendo near Kodaikanal where she compiled and edited The Tale of Self ,173 Zen stories. She now runs a meditation centre in Kerala.


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