Inspired by my readings of "Contemplative Prayer" and "Contemplation In A World Of Action" by Thomas Merton
Living in an ashram\monastic environment is a highly revealing experience, in terms of our own self-awareness.
Here, amongst the determined and enthusiastic, we get continuous chances to apply the simple yet profound: trnad api sunicena\taror api sahisnuna\amanina manadena\kirtaniyah sada harih.
In my own experience, living with the brahmacaris of the Bhativedanta Ashram here in NYC gives me the opportunity to do two things: rise above the negative aspects of my introspective nature (too shy, too lazy, etc) and use the positive aspects of my introspective nature in application of my Krsna-given abilities of writing, preaching, and communicating.
Merton writes about the benefits and pitfalls of these introspective aspects in the monastic\spiritual atmosphere in Chapter IV of Contemplative Prayer. He writes:
"Many of the obstacles to the life of thought and love which is meditation come from the fact that people insist on walling themselves up inside themselves in order to cherish their own thoughts and their own experiences as a kind of private treasure. They misinterpret the gospel parable of the talents, and as a result they bury their talent in a napkin instead of putting it to work and increasing it. Even when we come to live a contemplative life, the love of others and openness to others remain, as in the active life, the condition for a living and fruitful inner life of thought and love. The love of others is a stimulus to interior life, not a danger to it, as some mistakenly believe."
Here in the Ashram in the Apple, there is little room to hide, at least for myself in the negative, selfish sense that always opens the door for my favorite maya to sneak and snake in.
Our mood here is contagious, and for the first time really in my life, I live in a community of people in which I'm not so much afraid to express myself, to be myself, and to try to be talented and dynamic in the service of the servants.
It is a fine line, a razor's edge as always. The mood of the ashram, of monastic life, asks us to go deep, but we cannot hide inside ourselves any longer. We reveal to ourselves and then we we reveal to others, sharing our insights, our deepest thoughts, in order to grow and to preach. Merton writes:
"Many serious and good monks, idealists, desire to make of their lives a work of art according to an approved pattern. This brings with it an instinct to study themselves, to shape their lives, to remodel themselves, to tune and re-tune all their inner dispositions-and this results in full-time meditation and contemplation of themselves. They may unfortunately find this so delightful and absorbing that they lose all interest in the invisble and unpredictable action of grace. In a word, they seek to build their own security, to avoid the risk and dread implied by submission to the unknown mystery of God's will"
As HH Radhanath Swami has said, there is nothing more valuable that our relationships with our fellow Vaisnavas. The loving example of these relationships is one of the most valuable things we can give to people through our preaching.
Living in an ashram, in close brotherhood and association, gives us the most valuable chance to use our inner development to create and enhance these relationships, in a mood of aspiring surrender to the full will of Krsna.
But it is our constant struggle and choice, especially for those in an introspective mood, to give up our attachments to the mood of selfish individualism and the desire to be respected. These can only ruin us on the path of real self-realization, of our never-ending dependency on the shelter of the devotees to keep us safe and keep us dynamic and active in Prabhupada's mission.