It's not so easy to pick an ashram in India, especially if you've never been to India, and you're not entirely sure what you're looking for. I knew I wanted to study meditation, and breathing, and learn how to quiet my mind. But how could I even begin to choose a place? What if I chose poorly and ended up sleeping on a straw mat with mosquitoes biting me all night? (I was willing to do whatever for enlightenment's sake, but with the least amount of misery possible.) Nobody I knew had visited an ashram before. Ashram-review websites ("Check out the Top 10 ashrams in India!") don't exist. In fact, on the sites where people did share their ashram experiences, most people didn't want to name the place, because everyone's experience is different, and no one wants to unduly influence anyone. I don't want to unduly influence anyone either, but I've found so many people are truly curious about what the experience is like. So I'm going to share. I found Tureya, a small ashram in Tamil Nadu, recommended in a few articles on the Internet. It looked pretty, surrounded by hills and mountains. And the website was very thorough. I sent an email inquiring about availability, and a kind woman wrote me back within three days. We exchanged a few more emails about what exactly I was seeking, and she told me a few things that made me think. About a month later, I had to make a deposit to confirm my reservation. My rational side attempted to talk me out of it. Was I really going to stay here? I'd only seen this place on the Internet. I didn't know anyone who'd gone there. It could be full of ax murderers. Or maybe the students who visited mysteriously disappeared before they could come home… I ignored that crazy talk, and focused on my gut feeling. This place just seemed right for me. So I sent my deposit. Several weeks later, I found myself in the back of a van taxi, rumbling up a mountain road lined with blooming flowers and banana trees. It turned down a dirt driveway, and suddenly there I was, in front of Tureya's gate. I saw a few students on the other side, sipping tea out of aluminum cups. It was surreal. I was actually here, at an ashram in India. And I still didn't have much of an idea of what to expect. Over the next few days and weeks, I did a lot of thinking, reading, listening, sleeping and some meditating. I hiked in the mountains and washed my own clothes, and survived without my hair dryer and a full-length mirror. I cooked a Mexican meal for Swami and my fellow students, and I ate some fabulous home-cooked South Indian food. Did I gain enlightenment? No. Was I searching for enlightenment? Not necessarily. I showed up open-minded. I wanted to learn to think about my life in a different way, and my stay at Tureya definitely helped me do that. But no one told me outright how, or that if I practiced these certain steps, I'd get what I wanted. (Which is something that Westerners are so accustomed to -- people giving us specific programs and bullet points, so we can measure our progress.) In the end, each of us had to figure out what resonated for us individually. For me, it ended up being three things. Here they are: 1. We are each responsible for our own happiness. Sounds so simple, doesn't it? So often in life, we wish we had more of this or that, or that this one thing would happen for us. We become anxious over whether or not we're leading the lives we should be living. But what if it turned out that the external factors didn't matter? What if that anxious little voice actually did not have our best interests at heart? The only person who can make us happy is ourselves. It starts with our own minds. Assuming that's true, then that means all of us can be happy anywhere, at any time. This was a revelation for me: there is no reason why I cannot be happy. 2. The mind is something we can control. This kind of relates to the above topic, but in this instance I'm talking more about physically banishing fear and anxiety from your head. Dude, it can be done. I promise you. There were a few times at the ashram where I couldn't escape my thoughts -- we had no distractions, and I was often by myself. Random thoughts and fears came out of nowhere, and it was a little scary at times. I concentrated on breathing slowly and deeply and often felt much calmer. That did not prevent these feelings from coming back, but it felt empowering to know that I could make them go away again. 3. Have more faith. For a long time, my attitude about life has been, "Well, I really want this [insert personal life goal here], but I probably won't get it." For the first time, I examined that latter clause. Why won't I get it? Who says? Do I secretly think I don't deserve it? I'd always been such a go-getter at work, pushing myself to do more stories and tackle big projects. In my personal life, though, I'd never really declared to the universe what exactly I wanted, and firmly pushed for it with 100 percent of my heart and soul. I thought it was a self-preservation technique, that it was smart to keep my expectations low. Only recently did I realize that it's much more satisfying to have confidence and think positively. It feels so good to tell yourself that you're worth something, and that you'll get what you want in life. Fear just makes you feel dark and empty. I'll leave you with a few more photos.