THE WORD MAGAZINE. Writer and photographer Eva Donckers

Silent treatment: The story of a woman's quest for spirituality

After several emails and phone calls, someone directed me to Irma. All I knew was that she had been living a contemplative life for about a decade in the Ardennes in a house founded by a mystic, with a couple of other housemates. Curious as I was, I immediately contacted her, and she welcomed me enthusiastically. We picked a date and so, a few days later, my journey to a little village in the Ardennes began. We sat on a couch around a fire for a while in comfortable silence, until she began to share her life-changing experiences with me.

“If you decide to live here, you need to be able to put your personal needs aside when necessary.  To live here is to live in "service"

I was raised a Christian but never had much connection with the Church as an institution.  I did feel close to God as a child but became disconnected as I grew older.  And though I no longer believed in a specific God, 1 still always felt that there must be something more to life, more than what I was able to see with my eyes.  At a certain point 1 started searching again and so I got into shamanism.

15 years ago, during my journey in shamanism.  I had a strong spiritual experience in a desert in Nevada which was the start of my spiritual quest.  I went to Death Valley, where a guide showed me how to build a camp with just some branches and a sail.  After three days, I went into the desert by myself with only a few litres of water and a camp to hide from the sun.  I sat there in silence for three days and nights: Suddenly, an unexpected storm with hail arose, which made my endeavour more difficult.  On the last night, 1 drew a circle in the sand at sunset and meditated all night.  I gave myself into it, surrendering to it completely.  That night I became aware of all the elements-how everything is connected-and realized that I needed a spiritual guide to help guide me through this revelation, which was directing me into a new way of living.  Needless to say, from then on my life was no longer the same.

After this experience in the desert and my search for a spiritual guide, I came across a picture of Yoginâm one day.  And during a meditation session, Yoginâm spoke to me through that picture.  This was very real and therefore spooked me, so I didn't dare investigate the experience any further.  It was only a year later that 1 finally asked for more information on this man.  While meditating all day during a meditation festival, I could feel so much love surrounding us, and stroking me, and I realized that it was in fact Yoginâm's love.  That was the moment I was sure I wanted to meet him, and everything moved rather quickly from thereon.

Yoginâm is a contemporary mystic and spiritual guide who holds a degree in non-Western sociology from Leiden University. He subsequently worked as a sociologist for the United Nations in the Middle East and, upon his return was guided to his London-based  spiritual master and practiced traditional Sufism. For the next 13 years he became the representative of his master in the Netherlands and, during that time, made his house available for meditations and gave lectures on Sufism.

Quite unexpectedly, he was tasked with becoming a spiritual guide in his own right.  This soon generated a large group of people seeking his guidance and, in order to accommodate this steady flow of visitors, this house-the Asharum- was purchased in 2000. It currently serves as a centre and community house for people who  are keen to get better acquainted with what we now refer to as LivingNâm. Meanwhile Yoginâm moved to Andalusia, where he receives guests for healing, guidance and retreat.  But twice a year, in May and August, he returns to visit us in the Ardennes, staying for a few weeks so that we can meditate all together, attune to our Natural State and become inspired.  The house is located in Amonines, a little village close to Erezée.  Half the surroundings are covered in woods with swampy meadows nearby.  I was told that Yoginâm chose this location because of its laid-back atmosphere-it's unlike any other place in Belgium.  The neighbourhood is rustic, and life here is slowed down.  The house itself is situated on one of the energy spots of Weris, where many megaliths play testament to a centuries-old spiritual past.  I can assure you that you will notice a different atmosphere as soon as you enter the property, but you have to experience it for yourself in order to truly understand.

After my first encounter with Yoginâm, I felt like a few weights had fallen off my shoulders.  I was much lighter and able to leave behind many nagging thoughts and emotions.  I became much more open and free in my life.  I knew from this first meeting that I was in the right place, with the right person, I started to meet him more regularly in the Ardennes and felt more and more at home.  Every time I came back, I felt healed.  I also felt like I was coming home to myself.  I started to become more involved and feel more responsible for things in and around the Asharum house: cleaning, shopping and whatnot.  Then there was a certain moment when they actually needed someone to come live in the house, and they asked me to join.  I said yes.  I still kept my job in the Netherlands, but my main focus was now on the Asharum.

Before embarking on this new journey, I worked in a psychiatric hospital.  Then, one day, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease and my life was greatly affected to say the least.  All I could do was sit under a tree and drink some tea, meaning that I was no longer attached to a fixed daily work rhythm.  I had an agreement with my boss that I could go to the Ardennes a few days a week, because it was a great place for recovery.  So I went more and more to this house until I finally decided to make the full move.

In our shared space, we practice meditation together twice a day-once in the morning and again in the evening.  Sometimes we'll hold more meditation sessions, depending on if we're hosting visitors.  Having said that, our spiritual journeys are very individualistic.  These group sessions combined with private meditations are a way for us to find some form of alignment, but meditation is always part of our daily lives.  It's part of everything we do, from receiving guests to cooking and cleaning.  Practising LivingNâm is always intrinsic in our daily activities and conducted with our fullest attention and love.  It's our way of living;  our way of saying yes to life.

I've seen a lot of people come and go.  Right now, there are five of us residing in the house.  As the longest standing members, B. has stayed here since the time the Asharum was founded, while l've been here for a decade now.  I believe we're successful in our own way of living as a community partly because we all aim for a mutual higher goal.  If you decide to live here, you need to be able to put your personal needs aside when necessary.  To live here is to live in "service", This isn't always easy, and some don't make it.

I always feel like I'm part of general society, but standing on its fringes.  Through my alignment I can remain unaffected by certain circumstances from everyday life-for example, things like Black Friday don't affect me.  It's an everyday challenge to maintain this alignment, and not become part of the manic mass or succumb to the mental slavery that drives people so much these days.  The tools of LivingNâm help in this challenge: in finding your inner compass.  It asks a certain discipline of yourself — to “find the hero in yourself,” to borrow 20th century literature academic Joseph Campbell’s words.

Yet once you become aware of certain things, you can't go back into oblivion.  Every time you fall out of alignment, you have to go back.  You can be slipped away every day, but you can also grow stronger in staying firm-and only through practice.  I don't think I could ever revert back to my old life.  I've realized and become aware of certain things which I simply can't forget now.  Spiritual people don't have problems — they face challenges, but not problems.  This doesn't mean you can't fall sick.  of course, but rather that this doesn't have to be a problem.

We've been hosting visitors for over a decade now.  Some only visit once, but others often return.  I can always see a positive change when they leave.  Less tension in their shoulders for instance, as well as a softness in their eyes.  It seems like they leave a backpack of sorts behind.  Our main goal is to make these visitors aware of an ethical way of living.  We do this by setting examples like offering vegan meals three times a day, but especially by living in silence and attending group meditations to bring people back to their true nature.  It's only from here that people can truly discover morality.  We want them to experience silence; to have a glimpse of how it feels to just be.  Because of this, it can be a place of confrontation for some — especially if they stay for a week or longer.  The specific energy in the house which is maintained through daily meditations and the inner attitudes of the household guides them through these trying times, so we do not help by conversing, but through silence.