By Heather Wong Ken; Interviewed by Margie (Maitreyi) Wilsman
Having been a Svaroopa® yoga student for more than a decade, Heather Wong Ken knew there’d be big changes from taking a Shaktipat Retreat with Gurudevi Nirmalananda. She was a little bit afraid of it; yet when one was scheduled for Calgary, she signed up. She says, “It was a no-brainer. It was where I live and the right time to take it.
“The whole weekend was a powerful experience. Even though intense, it was also blissful and so deep. I felt like I was on a vacation.” Surprisingly, Heather’s sense of being on vacation happened in the meditation room with Gurudevi rather than on the recesses and meal breaks. In the meditation room with Gurudevi, Heather powerfully felt she “wanted to be there.”
The Shaktipat Retreat deepened Heather’s yoga practice. Now in everyday life, she feels a deeper sense of inner connection with Self, seeing Shiva in everybody and in everything. She feels so much more grounded and more confident.
She describes, “This new feeling is deeper than when I feel grounded by practicing asana (poses). I carry the feeling of Self-within even into the simple things of everyday life. I feel that I have more time. I have less need for distractions. Now, rather than watch TV at night to unwind, I do yoga and meditate.”
Heather went to the Shaktipat Retreat sensing something big would happen. Changes range wonderfully across an emotional spectrum. She feels underlying happiness. At times, arising anger and sadness surprise her. In the past her habit was to keep such emotions hidden. Now she is letting them be what they are, and they leave. Heather shares, “I was always a more serious person, even as a baby. Now I smile and laugh more. My interactions with other people feel more authentic. And my yoga practices have continued to deepen.”
When you decide how much yoga you are going to do, you are deciding two things: (1) what to do with some available time (a simple thing), and (2) what your goal in life is (a really big deal!). You are really choosing —do you want to be happy or do you want to be bliss-full? These are very different things. Are you using yoga to help you pursue success, to improve yourself or to delve into consciousness?
In the name of success, you try to manage the people and things in your life, or you try to acquire more of both. Whether you are handling a car repair or maneuvering to buy a new car, you are achieving a goal. When you are handling the relationship with your spouse or child, or maybe trying to acquire one of each, your pursuit of success is through relationship. Success happens when other people are doing what you want, and the things in your life match your current list of desires. If you are able to manage everything, then you can finally be happy.
You run into a few hurdles. This is because other people have their own agendas. Cars, children, gardens and other things all have their own process of growth or decay. Happiness through attaining success is possible, but just barely. Along the way, it is very stressful. You can do yoga just to recover from the strain; it balances out the rest of your life.
Your rate of progress is affected by the amount of practice you do:
mild, medium or intense.
Mild practice is described above: to balance out the stress that comes from your pursuit of the perfect life. Your weekly yoga class clears tensions from your muscles and stress hormones from your blood, so you can go back to the endeavors that will create success in the more significant parts of your life.
To live in the inner peace that arises from doing yoga, you need to do more practice — a medium amount. You also need to include meditation in your practice. Your practices keep you progressing into more inner openness or you will find that you are backsliding into fixity. Using yoga to create personal transformation is a beautiful and powerful practice.
Yet yoga is for the purpose of transcending your idea of who you are, not merely transforming it. You know this from the best Shavasana, from even a few moments of sitting perfectly still in a seated pose, or after a twist. The vastness of your own inner essence becomes undeniable.
If this is your goal, meditation is your most important practice. If the inner experience is your priority, meditation becomes the cornerstone of your daily practice. Each time your mind is imprinted by the Self, your mind becomes more and more clear — so you can see through it to the Self. Your entire life becomes the conduit of consciousness. For this goal, Patanjali recommends intense practice. Your maximum is three hours per day — as long as you have your work and your relationships, this maximum will work well for you. At this point, you might be thinking that three hours of yoga and meditation a day is pure craziness, while others are thinking that anyone who tries to get by on once a week is crazy. The important part is your goal. If your priority is success, then you should not do three hours of yoga a day — you will be supported in achieving success by doing a weekly class. If you want transformation or if you want to know consciousness, you have to make a different choice. You do decide, every day, how much yoga you will do and what your goal is. Even if you decide not to decide, you have made a choice. For my choice – I always say, “Do more yoga!”
Both my husband and I are seekers, yearning for a deeper relationship with God. Gurudevi Nirmalananda’s 2019 Year-Long Programme, “Leaps & Bounds,” lived up to its title. I’ve taken every YLP since the beginning, and my husband as well enrolled this year. He is also enrolled in a Christian Ministerial School, and we both consider Gurudevi to be our Guru. Our yearning motivated us to immerse in our Guru’s year-long studies. We participated in all four program options: articles, audios, discussion conference calls and the weekend retreat at Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram.
Gurudevi’s monthly, in-depth articles expound on the yogic principles that underlie the Svaroopa® Vidya path. Her timing of articles let me fit the reading of them into my busy life. I always find that re-reading deepens my experience even more. Then what follows is I have great anticipation for the monthly discourse audio. I go deeper as Gurudevi’s talk focuses and expands on selected points from the article. The sound of her voice fills me with Grace. This opens me to greater understanding of the teachings. Then I re-read the articles.
Her articles and audios lead me on a journey inward. I contemplate whatever stands out for me. It’s as though Gurudevi has created a path along which I can walk, pausing to contemplate amazing inner vistas. This lets me enjoy and absorb her information and spiritual guidance.
The monthly discussion calls help integrate spiritual principles into my life day by day. These conference calls create community. When I hear another person share an experience that reflects my personal experience or understanding, I feel validated. Yet when another yogi expresses a different perspective, my understanding expands. In our final weekend retreat, attended by those who had enrolled for Option 4, we all dive even deeper together.
This past year, discussion with my husband about what we were hearing, learning and experiencing was a delightful bonus. Our home time is structured around the ancient Svaroopa® Vidya principles and practices. Gurudevi emphasizes that meditation and japa (out loud mantra repetition) are essential practices. They open you to the knowing of your own Divine Essence — your own capital-S Self. They attune you to the reality of Divine Essence within everyone and everything. Thus, my husband and I meditate rather than fill evenings with TV. Mantra plays throughout our house, even as we catch up on chores and other work. Preparing to eat, I ask myself, “Would I put this food into God’s body?” Is my house appropriately clean as the place of my sadhana (spiritual practice)? Given Gurudevi’s 2019 YLP teachings, our home is unfolding as a sacred space.
Our final YLP discussion call anchored me into the practice of japa. Gurudevi suggested doing japa for 20 minutes morning, noon and night. I’m consistently doing japa and meditation at night and in the morning. Noontime — at work — cannot be perfectly consistent. Yet I repeat mantra whenever possible throughout the day. Thus, I practice japa for more and more time. I used to be mindful of time while doing japa. Now I go into a timeless place and fall in love with myself. I experience a deeper love for who I am as a person. I sense that my capital-S Self is loving my small-s self.
Year after year, Gurudevi’s YLP teachings empower me to know that everyone is a form of the formless — Divine Essence. My perceptions of the presence of God within me strengthen. Direct access to my Divine Essence within deepens. It extends into every area of my life. Gurudevi’s delivery of ancient yogic teachings for modern seekers reliably propels my spiritual progress. By the end of Gurudevi’s 2019 programme, my husband and I felt that we had truly moved forward on our spiritual paths with leaps and bounds!
Oh, Shivaratri! The night Shiva’s veil of maayaa thins, when you can become enlightened in that one night. The Ashram’s 2019 Shivaratri Retreat was the program I’d been waiting for — for years. From the moment we walked in the door on Saturday evening, everything was preparation for Shivaratri night. We were being prepared to dive deep inside on Shivaratri, that Monday night.
For five days we were immersed in an impeccably choreographed dance. There was not one moment that was not aimed toward Self-Knowingness. Gurudevi Nirmalananda’s presence. Swami Shrutananda’s presence (then known as Vidyadevi). Long, delicious, deep, layered asana classes. Hours of chanting. Hours of meditation. Hours of discourses. Aratis, again and again. Visits from Ashram residents. An Ashram lunch. At every turn we were propelled ever deeper and deeper. So many subtleties, so many techniques. All the power of the Svaroopa® sciences powered by Grace were on display. All the murtis were alive. The vibrations of Consciousness whispered and thundered, all at the same time. And then, after the night of Shivaratri, we were prepared for returning home, bringing the depth of our experience with us.
I first heard of this night many years ago when I took Foundations. That Foundations happened to be in February over Shivaratri. Who knew? I distinctly remember Gurudevi, then known as Rama Berch, coming in for the evening session. She brought her harmonium, and we chanted Om Namah Shivaya. I was enchanted by it all, including her description of holy activities in a far-away place. They were just ending in India, in a village called Ganeshpuri.
Many years later, I was in Ganeshpuri for Shivaratri. We pilgrims periodically joined the line dance that went on for days, in a room at the Nityananda Temple. We chanted the names of Nityananda, circling his murti (enlivened statue). Sadly, Gurudevi banned those of us over “a certain age” from staying up all night. Yet walking back to our room in the late evening, we were treated to a procession. Nityananda’s murti was traveling in style, borne in a silver palanquin by two men. He was out visiting the Ganeshpuri neighborhoods, offering darshan. He had quite a parade with him.
One year, my husband and I stayed up all Shivaratri night at our home in Maine, along with a guest. Three of us, chanting the names of Shiva, Om Namah Shivaya, and meditating all night. We ended with a sublime Guru Gita chant at sunrise.
Oh Shivaratri! Those previous experiences of Shivaratri, over many years, had primed my yearning for the Ashram’s Shivaratri last year. The long night of sitting with Shiva, this time hearing the ancient stories of Shiva, Sati and Parvati from the ancient epics. Ancient stories personalizing the cosmic forces at work in the universe and our lives. For me it was a night that was beyond time, beyond place, beyond reason, where the dimensions stretched simultaneously from my feet on the floor to the vastness of my own Self.
When I did arati in the morning, I was doing it in multiple locations. I was in Ganeshpuri and in Downingtown all at the same time. It’s sublime even trying to write about it now. I have been fortunate to have pilgrimaged several times to Ganeshpuri, to have sat at Nityananada’s feet and at Baba Muktananda’s feet. My Shivaratri Retreat at the Ashram, sitting at Gurudevi’s feet, was the same experience.
And then, of course, we got to go home. Did I get enlightened? Probably not. Am I different? Yes.
I feel as though I’ve walked out of a long tunnel into the sunshine. It’s an inside job. It’s so clear and steady. All I need to do is to position myself again and again, so I can receive the Grace that flows so abundantly from our Guru. All the practices thin the veil, but attending programs when the cosmic forces are similarly aligned is like rowing home on a rising tide. Ecstatic and effortless. See you at the Shivaratri Retreat next month!
By Evy (Kalyani) Zavolas, interviewed by Margie (Maitreyi) Wilsman
“Each Shaktipat Retreat with Gurudevi Swami Nirmalananda has taken me deeper,” says Kalyani Zavolas. Years ago, the first time she put her thumb on my forehead I didn’t feel very much. Over time, I’ve learned that what I feel depends on my receptivity. Now, I’m so much more receptive. I have attended at least 5 or 6. Attending Gurudevi’s Shaktipat Retreats regularly has been beautifully effective!
“Despite my lack of feeling much the first time, I kept signing up for more. Each time Gurudevi placed her thumb on my forehead to give me Shaktipat, I felt the openings deeper in my body — specifically in my heart. I could not get this heart opening any other way. Despite all my Svaroopa® Vidya practices — chanting, meditation, japa, vichara, yoga therapy and asana — a stuckness around my heart persisted. Attending Shaktipat Retreats, I got it unstuck.
The last two I attended were very close together. Why not I decided? In the midst of a major life change, I need extra help: openings, bliss and Guru’s Grace. What better way to get more Grace?
These last two retreats were deeply intense and so beautiful. I received abundant, tangible openings. The openings have become deeper and deeper. I now realize that the openings I need are so deep that nothing else can get in there. Shaktipat has not let me down.
I feel more supported each time I am in Gurudevi’s presence. Just thinking about the upcoming Shaktipat Retreat in February brings tears to my eyes. What an opportunity to attend again! I feel honored, humbled and grateful to be attending. At each of these retreats, I learn more about the openings that I am getting. Swamiji always gives amazing talks with new and expanded explanations that give me deeper understandings of what I am experiencing.
For me, it is really important to attend. Words don’t quite express what I am feeling as I prepare to attend again. I think I got the last open spot in the upcoming February retreat, but I know there is another retreat in May. I hope my sharing of these benefits will inspire others to attend. Namaste.
You’re working on enlightenment. This is true whether you are planning for it or not.
When I first read these sentences, it struck me that they are for me. They describe my whole life! I certainly did not plan to be working on enlightenment. Yet I look back and see that I was and I am. Each subsequent paragraph deals with things I’ve been through and am still going through.
As a teenager, I discarded religion and the spiritual course my family set me on. It just didn’t resonate for me at the time. I spent many years pursuing worldly accomplishments. It was thrilling, as Gurudevi suggests it can be, yet was ultimately unfulfilling. I had achieved what I wanted and had what I needed. I was not unhappy, yet there was still an empty space inside me. I became a seeker — well, I was probably that already. I found yoga. For a few years, I was still a seeker until I found Svaroopa® yoga and Gurudevi (then known as Rama) . Then I was a finder.
What did I find? All the other things Gurudevi talks about in the article. I am still working on these things. Or they are just happening for me — whether I plan it or not. I experience a deepening inner awareness. I experience growing feelings of inner wholeness and fullness. I experience who I am as well as a deeper understanding of who I am. I experience a different way of being in the world. I am increasingly freer of need, greed and fear. Not always trying to satisfy my needs through others makes me able to serve others more effectively and compassionately. Letting go of my agendas and objections, I find my ability to love grows. My heart opens more to others.
I feel supported all the time. I feel I have all the capacity to deal with whatever challenges life brings me. Gurudevi puts it this way:
The inner openings give you the depth and dimensionality that support you through everything.
For this I am truly grateful. In the first place, I feel overwhelming gratitude for finding Svaroopa® yoga. I’m grateful for Gurudevi guiding me on this path, as she says in the first paragraph:
The point of yoga and meditation is to get the lessons without having to go through life’s messy stuff.
Recalling life before yoga, I recognize things could have been messier than how they’ve turned out. Something else that resonated for me is the piece about being a human:
The sages of India explain that human life is precious. All life is to be cherished, one reason for the practice of vegetarianism, but especially human life is prized. In the grand scheme of things, to be born as a human being gives you the opportunity to get enlightened…
Gurudevi doesn’t say don’t waste it, don’t fritter it away. Instead, she makes us aware of our choice:
You can get enlightened should you so choose.
It is up to me.
I have been “working on enlightenment,” whether I am “planning for it or not.” So I may as well cooperate with the process and do more yoga and meditation!
By Deena Rotches, interviewed by Marlene (Matrikaa) Gast
“Every year, I sign up for Swami Nirmalananda’s Year-Long Programme, because I love It,” describes Deena Roches. “I find them to be invaluable. Each one focuses on a specific topic related to spiritual growth. The information in her monthly articles and audio discourses is both educational and inspiring. The conference calls for the whole group of participants are incredible. You get to hear from your fellow yogis how they are evolving as well as describe your own process. For me, this always sparks things I didn’t know were there. I get a way of looking at something I’d never thought of before. The phone calls are extraordinary for opening you to new perspectives. In the Programme’s final month, the retreat weekend brings all the learning and transformation home.
“In these year-long studies with Swami Nirmalananda, something happens that makes me realize my progress over time. Especially on the phone calls and during the weekend retreat, I hear something and think, ‘I know that, I’ve experienced that.’ This validation heightens may awareness of where I’m at. This supports my continued growth. That said, it’s not to minimize the information we’re given in articles and audios. In fact, the information alone is enough to catapult you into a whole different dimension of your being.
“Swami Nirmalananda makes the most complex, mystical concepts simply accessible and relevant to you personally. This is just so valuable. She teaches about the profound spiritual concepts of Tantra. She teaches the most profound principles by example and analogy. Her approach makes them easy to understand in terms of your own everyday life experience.
“I live in a conventional householder’s world with lots of family dynamics. I am not surrounded by a lot of yogis. Having Swami Nirmalananda’s teachings in the midst of my life supports me, as a yogi, in the world. Many of us know how complex a family Thanksgiving can be, for example. Yet I just sailed through one that included 16 out-of-town family members for a week. I dedicated all aspects of the week to God and Guru. Everything that I did was dedicated to our beloved Sadguru. The joy flowed, and I had a blast.
“I continue meditating 1.5 hours per day and japa for 20 minutes three times per day. From last year’s Programme, I’ve learned not to depend on praise for my actions. All elements of the Programme allowed me to internalize this teaching. I couldn’t have gotten through responding to the needs of 16 other people without it. In the past, my happiness would have depended on needing to make everyone happy. This Thanksgiving, that dependency was gone. I no longer am depending on their reactions to give me a “sense of self-worth or purpose in life.” I’ve learned to ‘just do what you do.’
“I feel greater peace than I could ever have imagined possible. Even on this heavenly plateau, I still find myself continuing to move forward. I’m especially looking forward to a Shaktipat Retreat, my chosen practice. I attend each one in Downingtown. They strip away restraints and obstacles, so I go deeper and deeper into Self – living life with more joy, peace and contentment. And I’m poised to enroll in the 2020 Year-Long Programme.”
The 2020 Year-Long Programme Practical Mysticism addresses the question “How do you attain the highest while living in the world?” The Free Intro call is on March 11.
I asked Deena about her about her experience of the Free Intro Calls for programs through the years. “I’ve never done one,” she asserted. “I just always sign up for the whole year because I love them. They give me so much.”People on the prior calls report many of the same kinds of shifts the whole Programme provides. Everyone experiences some of the transformation that will abundantly unfold by enrolling in any of the four Programme options (or all!). That has certainly been my experience, and I hope it will be yours as well. Click here to register for the Free Intro Call on March 11, 6:30 to 8:00 pm (Eastern Time).