Distance-Learning for Spiritual Growth

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).

Reflections on a Full Day Meditation Program

By Pam Church, interviewed by Phil (Krishna) Milgrom

“I was happy to be in the company of so many other meditators,” says Pam Church, reflecting on last year’s post conference Full Day Meditation program. It took place the day after our Boston conference, Breakthrough.  “I learned so much that day,” recalls Pam.  “Yet the most significant thing for me occurred the day after.  I woke up feeling lighter.  Something had lifted.”

When I spoke with Pam, a couple weeks after the conference, she said she was still feeling lighter.  I asked her to share more about her experience.  She appreciated the guidance of our Gurudevi, Swami Nirmalananda, and Rukmini (now Swami Samvidananda).  Gurudevi’s discourses were especially instructive.  “She gave some very helpful suggestions about how to stay in meditation when the mind is telling you to do otherwise.  For example, she said don’t let your mind control you. She stated that Patanjali’s sutra 1.2 ‘Yoga is the stilling of the mind’ means you have to intervene.  The stilling is not just going to happen.  The she expanded, saying, ‘You can stop your car by driving it into a pole.  Or you can steer it to a flat surface and hope it coasts to a stop.  But the car has brakes: use them! Yoga gives you ways of braking your mind to bring it to stillness.’”

Pam reports that Gurudevi also gave ample time to answering questions regarding meditation difficulties.  Most relevant to Pam was what Gurudevi said about emotions: “Emotions are not bad.  Some meditators want to kill their emotions.  If you are alive, you are going to feel things.  Acknowledge the validity of your emotions; just do not get lost in them.”

Pam continues, “Gurudevi also said that thoughts and emotions leave imprints that clutter the mind and keep us from experiencing who we really are.  She advised us to redirect our focus to a deeper level, to Consciousness. Consciousness replaces the old imprints. Swami reminded us that we don’t have to suffer through all that our mind does to us.”

Another important piece for Pam was Gurudevi’s advice about the creative power of Consciousness and its ability to solve problems during meditation.  “She advised us not to stop our meditation to work on a problem or to write down the answers that come.  We should trust that we will remember afterward.  We can ask Kundalini to remember the answers for us. Most important is to keep our focus on the Source during meditation.”During the weekend conference, Gurudevi defined a breakthrough in yogic terms: “It is when you discover your Self as you always were, and always are, and always will be — Shiva.”  Perhaps Pam’s experience of “feeling lighter as if something had lifted” was a sign that Shiva had removed the heavy veil of concealment.  Interestingly, in a conference discourse over the weekends, Gurudevi had said, “When you become enlightened, you don’t lose your ability to function in the world — you lose your limitations, because Consciousness shines through you and melts them away.”

A Year Like None Before

By Gurudevi Nirmalananda

We begin another new year, a wonderful thing, something I have done over 70 times before.  Yet this year is going to be different than any I’ve stepped into previously, because I’m no longer the only one wearing orange at Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram.  I am now one of six swamis, yoga monks who have dedicated their lives to Grace, the revelation of the Self Within.  They’ve said that there’s nothing more important to them than knowing their svaroopa, their True Essence as Consciousness-Itself.  Wow! 

Last month I had the great honor of presiding over the two days of ceremonies that initiated their spiritual journey in earnest.  The traditional fire ceremony was followed by a secret pre-sunrise ceremony featuring both fire and water.  They emerged like newborns, with glowing eyes, round bald heads and a whole new sense of freedom.  The aging process has been turned on its head; they’re newly born into their ancient and authentic essence.  That’s the point, yoga says.  The goal is freedom.  Sannyas is an amazing ritual, better than a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.

Their new Sanskrit names are merely “handles,” a way for us to be in relationship with them, even to sort them out and begin to understand them.  Yet each one of them is more than what can be named, the whole of Consciousness in a power-packed capsule of radiant human being.  As they and I were getting used to their new names, the old one would slip out.  It made us laugh because the old name simply didn’t apply any more, like when “Junior” becomes a grandpa.  Thus, the protocol became:  when you use the old name, laugh. 

What will having six swamis mean for the Ashram community?  I have no clue!  And I delight in the day-to-day discovery that lies in store for all of us, not just them.  I do know that, when you apply yourself to something with such focus and commitment, nothing can hold you back.  This is true for you as it is for them, but they are working with the power of an ancient initiation that makes everything they do more empowered.  I see that in our day-to-day conversations, even simple things containing a profound truth that they can now see. 

They’re going to share that with all of us.  We’re planning ways for them to reach out and touch every one of you — all you Svaroopis and seekers of enlightenment through Grace.  While I will help them chart their course, each one is like a comet in the sky, and she is able to fly wherever she chooses to go.  I plan to applaud.

Our first few steps have begun:

  • Mandali Travels programs that have been planned with one swami are going to get two.  We’re sending them out so they can reach more of you, spreading the Grace abundantly, like a child spreads jam on toast.
  • YogaMysticism.Today will be publishing a new swami blog each week in addition to our Traditional Tales series.  They will be sharing their mystical insights with you and with the world.
  • Our evening satsangs for Ashram residents now feature a different swami each night, sharing a teaching or practice that is meaningful to her.
  • And I continue to teach and guide them along with our other residents, a process that carries us all deeper as we continue to follow this pathway where it is proven to go — into the bliss of Consciousness within.  The difference for our new swamis is that the light shining on their pathway now comes from within, a tangible and delicious difference.

Meanwhile, our immersions and trainings continue, now led by swamis who have even more to offer than they ever had before.  I lived nearby when Walt Disney opened Disneyland.  For the best rides, you needed an E-ticket, but sometimes you only had A’s, B’s or C’s.   Now every ticket you use on a ride run by a swami gives you an E-ticket experience!  Buckle your seat belt.  We’re going to have a good time.

Radical Self-acceptance

By Carolyn Karuna Beaver

When I feel my way into Svaroopa® yoga’s teaching, I can sense that it is true that I am Shiva.  I feel expansive and grounded at the same time.  I can sense beyond the boundaries of my body and my mind to know the One Divine Reality being all – being me, being you, being everyone and everything, seen and unseen.

And then I forget who I really am.  Over and over again, I get distracted.  I get caught up in the mundane aspects of life.  I get focused on what I do or who I am in relationship with.  I’m busy thinking and feeling.  These are all valid parts of who I am.  But they don’t often lead me to see myself as Divine.  It’s a painful and separate place to be.

This is why I’m loving Sadguru Swami Nirmalananda’s final “quick fix” of the year.  Her December Teachings Article, It’s All Divine, gives the most powerful of the practices thus far: “See it All as Shiva.”

I tend not to see the mundane — “my” mundane — as Divine.  Divine, my mind tells me, is Godlike, celestial.  Even using a less lofty definition, Divine is lovely, blissful and pleasing.  My mundane life often does not feel like any of this. But then I go back to Swamiji’s quick fix — to see it all as Shiva.  Even the mundane stuff, even the tough stuff, even the messy stuff.  It’s all Shiva.  What helps me see this is starting with me.

This month’s quick fix reminds me of Rene Descartes’ axiom “I think, therefore I am.”  Yoga’s axiom is more like “I am, therefore I AM.”  Shiva is existence Itself.  Because I exist, I am existence itself.  Because I exist, I am Shiva.  I don’t have to “do” anything.  I just am.  Everything I think and say and do is Shiva.  Everything I see is Shiva because I am Shiva.

verywellfamily.com

It’s all in the way I look at things.  Swami puts it this way, “The One Divine Reality is never absent. It’s only your perception that changes.”  All I have to do is shift my perception.  I’ve been putting this into practice by giving myself a gentle “knock upside my head.‘  In a recent conversation with my daughter, I found myself getting frustrated.  She was stuck in a viewpoint that I felt was getting us nowhere.  Then it hit me — literally hit me.  I am Shiva.  It was like an ice cube melting in the warmth of the sun.  My mind melted into peace in the middle of strife.  I knew I was Divine and mundane — aha and duh — at the same time!  All I had to do was shift my perception of who I was in that moment, and it all changed.  I allowed my daughter her viewpoint.  I realized I didn’t have to change a thing.  It could just “be” — as I could just “be.” For me, this takes the sting and judgment out of the mundane.  It reminds me that I don’t have to put things in two camps: Divine/mundane, pleasant/unpleasant, right/wrong.  It all just IS.  It’s all Shiva, all the time.  I am Shiva, all the time, whether I’m sitting in meditation or arguing with my daughter.  As Swamiji writes, “You are Shiva, so wherever you go, Shiva is there because you are there.”  And when I recognize my Shivaness, I recognize it in everyone and everything else too. This is pretty radical Self-acceptance.  And that is Divine!

Yoga Healing Retreat

by Rama (Ruth) Brooke

As I stepped onto the train to Downingtown, I sensed the power of my upcoming Yoga Healing Retreat.  I felt myself turning inward.  I felt a sweet surrender.  I would be placing myself in the care of Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram’s highly skilled healing therapists and spiritual master, Sadguru Nirmalananda Saraswati.  Already, I was aware of the Grace that would carry me through various railroad delays and mechanical problems.  Grace, I knew, would transport me through the retreat and back home again.

Hours later, I arrived at the Ashram’s Lokananda retreat center.  I was greeted warmly and shown to my room in the simple, yet fully outfitted student accommodations.  All six of us retreatants were quite comfortable in our assigned dorm rooms.  The walls of Lokananda shimmer with sacred images of Gurus and Gods.  Having decorated this place of bliss with light, Swamiji has hung an abundance of mirrors. They reflect natural light and remind us of our own divine light.  Having been here many times before, I flowed easily into the welcoming Ashram lifestyle and schedule.  This unburdened me, freeing me from neediness.

When I enrolled in the Yoga Healing Retreat, I had no particular health issue in mind.  I was a bit weary after a long and busy family-filled summer.  I yearned to replenish, diving inward in a way I could not do at home.  It was the “retreat” aspect that attracted me.  I had heard solid recommendations from other yogis attending the same program in prior months.  This was an opportunity for a pilgrimage to the Ashram.  I looked forward to it as a spa for the psyche.

I did have some issues to “vichara.”  Vichara is a guided self-inquiry that unravels mental tensions and heals the mind and heart.  I found those daily private sessions immensely valuable.  The vichara therapist’s questions helped “clear the smoke screen.”  Her questions elicited responses from me that opened me to my own knowing.  I could see my thought processes and mental patterns from a different viewpoint.  I came away with a new level of awareness and insight.  Afterwards, I knew I wanted to dig deeper still, and continue this therapy in phone sessions from home.

Although it was not my main motivation to attend, I got plenty of physical healing.  In addition to morning vichara sessions and yoga classes, each of us had private afternoon yoga therapy sessions.  The highly trained yoga therapists had no trouble finding the tight spots in my body.  They applied skilled techniques to release these areas in a way I could never do on my own.  The release was so pronounced, I thought I might experience some significant relapse.  During the final days, however, our private sessions consisted of learning a customized home practice.  The poses, alignments and propping were tailored for my body’s healing process.  The practice has enabled me to easily maintain and continue the openings at home.

The yoga classes, yogic philosophy discourses, chants and meditation were equally as supportive as the private sessions.  The yoga class format was a little different from the standard.  They were slightly shorter with the same or similar pose sequences each day.  This served well to relax and open mind and body after the intensity of the vichara.  It also provided a sweet warmup in preparation for yoga therapy later in the afternoon.

After lunch we had time to digest while listening to a discourse on the healing process.  Yoga’s perspective, as informed by the ancient sages and yogic texts, is enlightening.  We learned about the yogic healing paradigm, which is explained in Swamiji’s 2017 March teachings article: Healing Is a Multidimensional Process.  Although I had heard some of the teachings before, I gained new clarity on the many subtleties involved.  The Svaroopa® Sciences are all incorporated in the Ashram’s Yoga Healing Retreat programs.  They touch each level of our multidimensional being effectively and with precision and compassion.

Chant and meditation bookended each day.  We began at 6:30 am with Sri Guru Gita.  The 50 plus minutes of Sanskrit vibrated through my body, lifting the curtains of sleep and shrama (worldly heaviness).  It’s easy to slip into meditation afterwards.  Timelessly, the sweet sound of the meditation bowl brought us lightly and fully back into the physical realm.  Journaling “memorialized” our experience.

The healing retreat schedule provides ample downtime: time to rest, chat with a yoga buddy, stroll Downingtown center or peruse Ashram Shop items.  Yet it also provides the intensity of an immersion program.  While the schedule feels spacious and spa-like, much more is going on beneath the surface.  The immersion allows for cumulative openings of mind, body and whole being. 

Even now, weeks later, the healing transformation continues. I have been able to sustain my personal yoga practices more easily.  My meditations are deeper, and I experience less shrama.  I feel the inward turning, sweet surrender of placing myself at my Guru’s feet, and allowing Grace to carry me through my life.

Using Your Body to Go Beyond

By Leslie (Bhakta) Johnson, interviewed by Lori (Priya) Kenney

“Teaching is how I pass on the gift that I was given, experiencing and being present in the Self,” says Bhakta.  “I’ve had many opportunities to take trainings with our Svaroopa® Yoga Teacher Trainers.  I have trained with Swami Nirmalananda for many years.  Being with those great teachers has had an effect on me.  Having had my own deep experiences, I bring that depth of experience and presence to my teaching.”

Besides regular classes in her Minneapolis studio, Bhakta travels to Downingtown PA and elsewhere to teach.  She serves as a Teacher Trainer for Foundations as well as Embodyment® Yoga Therapy and other courses.  Bhakta brings to her students the richness of nearly 18 years of Svaroopa® Yoga teaching experience.

“The way we teach asana in Svaroopa® Yoga is uniquely profound.  Students learn to feel their body in a whole new way.  This enables them to track inward on a more subtle level.  They become aware of life in a different way, including life’s subtleties.

“My main purpose is to support students in deepening their awareness and deepening into themselves.  As an asana teacher, I focus on the body to help students look inward.  Doing Svaroopa® Yoga gives them this gift.  They learn to be present in that depth.  When I asked a new student how he found my class, he said, ‘I googled tantra.  Your website came up, so I decided to try a class.’  He has already attended a satsang and had a private session.  Svaroopa® Yoga is the yoga that enriches all your experience.

“I see my students deepening into themselves.  They gain an understanding of the difference between the mind and who they are beyond their mind.  After class, I ask students how they are hearing the contemplation I read.  I ask what it means to them.  Even students who are new to Svaroopa® Yoga come to know the difference between what their mind is doing and who they are — the Self.

“Over time, I hear from my students is that they are less stressed.  When they are stressed, they recognize that they’re over-reacting.  Students become more aware of how they’re reacting, what they are reacting to and why.  Having gained this understanding, they begin to move through life with less reaction.  Often, they recognize what to do to return to a state of clarity and peace.

“It’s a gift to fully know the significance of the body.  Before Svaroopa® Yoga, I only knew the significance of my body when it was in pain.  That gave me a particular kind of relationship with my body.  When you practice Svaroopa® Yoga, old patterns start to unravel.  Your relationship with your body changes.  “You learn to use your body for more than just carting you around.  You learn to use your body for its highest purpose.  You discover there is so much more to you and your body.  I help students to cultivate their own experience of svaroopa, the bliss of beingness.  Within your body, you can experience all the levels of Consciousness.  Ultimately, by going into the body, you get beyond the body.  One of my favorite quotations from Swamiji is, ‘By delving into and through your own body, you can come to know your own True Self.’”

New Swamis

By Sadguru Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Day 2 in Ganeshpuri:  we spent hours and hours, delicious and timeless hours, in a Vedic fire ceremony.  This yaj~na honored the cosmic energy that sustains, nurtures and protects the universe, Narayana and Lakshmi.  We invoked their blessings for all of us and for the whole world, as well as to get the new swamis ready for their big step.

Day 3 in Ganeshpuri:  we immersed ourselves in a second yaj~na, but shorter.  The morning ceremony was conducted by five yogis preparing to give themselves to the fire of Consciousness.  They spent the afternoon and evening in a vigil, with more flames, more mantras and lots of quiet time and personal practice.  As I joined them at different times in the day, we laughed a lot!  They were getting lighter and lighter as the day progressed, not only shining more brightly but also shedding the density of lifetimes.

Day 4 in Ganeshpuri:  After the fires, burning away their karmas and limitations, the new swamis were birthed in the waters of Ganeshpuri’s sacred hot springs.  Mantras, some of them whispered by the Guru under a shawl, and new names completed their ceremonies, freeing them in extraordinary, powerful and blissful ways.  It shines in their eyes as well as through their mind and heart.  The way they see, walk, think and speak is changed – yet they are the same.  Freedom is simply you becoming more you by shedding who and what you were not.

Their new names are:

Praj~naananda  (the yogi formerly known as Chiti)

Sahajananda (the yogi formerly known as Kusuma)

Samvidaananda (the yogi formerly known as Rukmini)

Satrupananda (the yogi formerly known as Sakalananda)

Shrutananda (the yogi formerly known as Vidyadevi)

More reports are coming soon!