“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time”.
~ TS Elliot
I have always been a seeker. When I was 8 years old I remember standing out under the dark night sky, looking up in awe at the millions of stars and wondering, “Where does the universe end? What is beyond what we know and see?” I was contemplating existence and the infinite unfathomable mystery of Source.
This quest-ioning still fuels my fire today and I recognize how my soul has always been longing to return to the remembrance of who I am-who we all are: expressions of God, of Source, of one universal consciousness.
When I was in kindergarten I wrote a book entitled “I Am An Artist”. Perhaps I abided in a natural state of self-realization without any of the necessity to realize because I just was- a state most children exist in until the societal and parental collective fear of separateness sets in and forces us to grow up and be responsible. Instead of teaching our children the essence of responsibility, how to be able to ‘respond’ we teach how to live in a contracted state of fear and we call this being an adult.
Ironically, before I began my official ‘spiritual journey’ I feel I was in more of a natural state of being. I lived authentically, expressing joy, creativity and excitement for life and the adventures that lie before me. I truly felt fearless. From the age of 16 I traveled around the world often by myself, working in restaurants, jumping out of planes, white water rafting and going wherever I felt called to go and explore.
The artist in me created through drama and dance and eventually I studied Contemporary Dance at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. Being an overachiever I often did the work of a 4-year degree in one semester. By the time I was in my 2nd year at SFU I was dancing 8 hours a day including working on my own and other students’ choreographies, performing, going to the gym most days to work out, as well as continuing with all of my other academic studies. Not to mention having a thriving social life on campus. Well, nature wouldn’t allow me to continually disrespect her; I began to have major lower back pain and tendonitis. Yet, I pushed through-often times performing under great amounts of pain. This is what I thought the life of a dancer was: beauty, pain and perseverance.
In my final semester of my 4th and final year at SFU, I had my first real conscious wake up call. After a camping trip with friends I came home to find the strangest blistering growth expanding by the hour on my ankle. This thick and fluid filled growth continued to erupt for days until I was eventually left rolling around my apartment unable to walk. Despite my denial of the need for help and adverse feelings towards Allopathic medicine, I suffered until the pain became so excruciating that I ended up in the emergency ward of the Vancouver Hospital at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night. The doctors lanced the massive growth off my ankle all the while remarking how it may be the flesh eating disease or something equally terrible. I graduated from the contemporary Dance program at SFU on crutches and had to resign myself to the fact that I wasn’t able to dance.
Needing to move in my body, as my ankle healed I began studying Yoga more intensely than ever. One day in class about a month or so after having the growth removed I was doing a yoga posture in a standing 1/2 lotus position into a standing forward fold when I heard a ‘pop!’ It was my knee. I left the yoga class limping, knowing it wasn’t good. By the next day the same ‘growth’ that had previously erupted on my ankle was now threatening my knee. It spread quickly and filled with fluid, taking over my knee, thigh and calf.
The realization that there was something internally producing this was terrifying. Where would it spread to next? How would I stop it? (The Doctors couldn’t even tell me what was causing it.) Would I have to keep getting parts of my body lanced off over and over? I had 16 different medical opinions with no consensus or conclusion. I felt overwhelmed, alone and scared-my dreams of dancing seemed so distant as I could not ignore what was going on with my body.
My yoga teacher at the time suggested I try an ancient technique, an unusual form of healing. Without any other options, I did. I followed her advice and miraculously found results overnight. I felt so empowered and had my 1st experience of the power of the human body and mind to be the most powerful vehicles for healing. Even though I had instant noticeable results, my healing journey to recovery was months and months before the growths were completely gone.
Still young enough not to be too discouraged by life’s twists and turns, I focused on my 2nd passion-travel. I moved to New Zealand for 9 months where I lived on a boat, worked as a waitress, trekked through exquisite rugged landscapes, white water rafted, jumped out of another plane and eventually hitch-hiked up the west coast to work on some organic farms.
As fate should have it, I met my friend Swami Muktidharma who invited me to India the following fall to live at the Bihar School of Yoga and participate in the Yogic Studies program there. In a heartbeat I said ‘yes!’
My life changed forever…
Until meeting Swami Muktidharma I had no idea what a Guru was, or a Swami or why any of these things might have any significance in my life. Quite frankly I considered myself an atheist and allergic to the word ‘God’.
Yet I knew India was exactly where I needed to be, no question. The idea of living in an ashram, sleeping on a little wooden bed and cleaning toilets for karma yoga thrilled and excited me. And still, no one could have prepared me for how my life was about to change.
That may sound a bit dramatic and beyond shaving my head and being initiated into my Karma Sannyasin name ‘Madhuri’, most of the significant changes were happening within me. A whole new world of spirituality opened to me. I spent any free time I had at the ashram in the library, reading books on Yoga, Ayurveda and anything related to spirituality. I met my Guru and my heart spilled open. I sailed blissfully through the 5 months living there, chanting every day, cleaning toilets for my karma yoga and spending lots of time in mouna (silence).
The challenge was leaving the ashram. Taking one of the most impactful experiences of my life and having no one to share it with, no one in the city I lived in to understand what it means to sit at the feet of a Sat Guru, a living Saint, a human that simply pours unconditional love to thousands of people just by BEING. My boyfriend at the time felt uneasy and threatened by the internal energetic changes that had occurred within me while I was away.
Once the doorway to consciousness is opened, there is no going back. I began the longest, deepest and darkest journey within myself- a journey that lasted 12 years. 12 years is the traditional period of time that a disciple would live and serve their Guru. Even though I didn’t live full time in the ashram with my Guru I have felt that over the years I have been tested by Guru, by the Universe, over and over and over again…
(And then later…)
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything).
Somewhere on my journey of Self-realization, the journey to the depths of my soul, I got lost. I lost the plot. I lost my way. I made friends with a 7 year sickness, I got married, I got divorced, I lost my home, I moved countries, I lost my Grandma, I did Vision Quests, I owned a Yoga studio and I had 2 experiences with 2 different ‘enlightened spiritual masters’ who were completely out of integrity and left me with scars of abuse and confusion.
And this story isn’t over, my journey continues. Each day I wake feeling gratitude for my life, for my health and wellbeing and for the light. The greater my light shines, the more I can see the darkness. It’s more prominent, more apparent and I am less afraid.
I feel blessed to be sharing the wisdom of Yoga & Ayurveda and to be contributing to raising the vibration on this planet, to be a catalyst for awakening and healing. I am blessed to be here today.
Madhuri Phillips is a certified Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist (CAS), Pancha Karma Specialist (PKS), and Ayurvedic Body Therapist receiving certification from the California College of Ayurveda as well as having done advanced study with world renowned, Dr. Vasant Lad. Madhuri has been a head faculty member of the Langara College Yoga Teacher Training Program since its inception in 2008 and is currently the co-organizer of the Vancouver Ayurveda Meet-Up Group. She is a registered Senior Yoga Teacher with YogaBC and an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT) with Yoga Alliance. Madhuri has shared her knowledge and wisdom with students across Canada, in England and in India for more than a decade. www.madhuriayurvedayoga.com