Seva Shifts

By Ellan (Shanti) Catacchio
Interviewed by Marlene (Matrika) Gast

I confused seva with volunteering.  I know now, however, that seva is yoga because it puts me in my stuff.  That inner experience triggers spiritual growth.  In volunteering, I just focused on getting the job done.  In offering seva, I look at the effects of the process on me.  I used to say I work better under pressure.  Then I realized I only worked under pressure.  Seva has helped me change that.

My first seva involved updating contact information.  The three-part process included calling, emailing and finally sending snail mail.  I learned a bit about how to navigate an online communications system.  All the while, I had to push myself through resistance and a deeply engrained habit of procrastination.  I kept telling myself it was seva.  You just do it.  Humbly.  In my case, grumbly.

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Liberation came in the form of my next seva: transcribing Swamiji’s recorded talks.  Heaven.  I actually asked Swamiji if it was still seva if I enjoyed it.  Thus, I was treated to one of her wholehearted laughs.  I was confusing seva with tapas.  I loved that this new seva took information from my ears to my fingers and then to my eyes to review what I had transcribed.  It required a lot of going back and listening again and again.  How sweet that was.  But nothing lasts.  We transcribers were far ahead of the editors.  So, then, I was asked to do editing.

I confessed up front that editing was not my best skill set.  Yet I stuck it out for a time.  I got books for help but was not effectively contributing to the final product.  Still, this seva was full of the Grace of revelation.  It threw me into some very old stuff from school days.  I recognized that gap couldn’t be closed and other sevites had that skill.  I was able to release the editing seva without my small-s self being devastated.

My current sevas include labeling and organizing our photos in an online app.  I also send letters to non-cash donors, providing documentation for tax purposes, and I send notes to honorees who have been named in cash donations. Through seva I’ve learned to recognize old identities and bad habits I need to shed.  I’ve learned humility in doing what I am told when I don’t want to.  I’ve learned to trust in a process I don’t fully understand.  I have cultivated willingness to learn new things and the capacity to step out of my comfort zone.  Doing seva is doing more yoga; doing more yoga reveals our true Divinity.  In the meantime, it gets stuff done.  How great is that!

Benefits for Every Body

By Evy (Kalyani) Zavolas, Interviewed by
Margie (Maitreyi) Wilsman

“The best part of the Yoga Therapy Intensive Retreat is that I do not feel rushed,” declares Evy (Kalyani) Zavolas.  “Delicious downtime and rest allow my body and mind to integrate the therapeutic benefits.  I experience inner renewal.”  Since it was first offered, Kalyani has taken this healing retreat four times.

Early morning includes chanting with Swami Nirmalananda or a yoga class before meditation .  After a leisurely breakfast, you receive Yoga Therapy or a vichara (guided self-inquiry) session.  The Ashram yoga therapists customize your sessions to your particular needs.  Afternoons feature talks about the yogic healing process along with another private therapy session, and you chant and meditate before bed.

Kalyani describes, “At home again, information from the talks supports me when I have pain.  I stay calm, take care of myself and apply my yoga practices.  I remember that 80% of pain is determined by how you handle it, depending on your mind-set.  Studies show that there are cultural differences.  Some will feel pain and have an incredibly strong emotion.  Others handle pain differently, so the intensity is less.  I also value the talk on spontaneous healing.  While it has been poo-pooed in the past, textbooks now report examples of spontaneous healing.”

Kalyani also appreciates that the retreat has no prerequisites for enrollment.  It’s open to everyone, whether experienced yogi or non-practitioner.  Kalyani has been doing Svaroopa® yoga and teaching for 19 years.  

William, her husband, attends a class occasionally or rests in Shavasana when possible. Even so, William accompanied Kalyani to the retreat in 2016.  She shares, “He had just finished law school and was dealing with his father’s impending death.  Yoga therapy and rest helped William recover, center himself, and deal with loss.  Swamiji’s talk on the history of medicine’s approach to pain was illuminating.  He found it interesting that prayer was once a significant part of medicine.  Studies are now showing that how a doctor treats the patient really does matter.  The spiritual aspect is being returned in some cases.” 

As a teacher, Kalyani knows the power of Svaroopa® yoga handle pain.  She emphasizes, “The Yoga Therapy Intensive Retreat is a user-friendly five days.  You don’t have to be someone who does Svaroopa® yoga daily to benefit.  For everyone it’s a great way to heal and renew.  As with any Svaroopa® yoga program, when I return home, I am ready to deepen my physical practices.  Spiritually, I am uplifted and revel in easier access inward to Self.  I can use all the help I can get!”

Living from Big-S Self

By Belle (Bhavani) Mann

I used to feel I needed to keep my distance from the world.  I thought that my life would be easier, that everything would go more smoothly.  This way, I thought, I could live more fully in the Self.  I thought this was enlightenment. 

However, our 2018 Year-Long Programme, Enlightenment in the Midst of Life, showed me otherwise.  Sadguru Swami Nirmalananda’s took us through powerful monthly teachings.  She showed us that withdrawing from the world won’t free us from petty thoughts and desires. Nor will withdrawing make life smoother or easier. Articles, audio discourses, conference calls and the final in-person retreat opened me to a different understanding.  Enlightenment will not change the events and conditions of my life.  When I am enlightened, I will be a different person experiencing them.

Through Swamiji’s teachings about enlightenment, I have deeper access to my own Self — the One Self Being All.  Swamiji’s teachings reach into my own life in the world.  As a Self-Realized Master, she knows firsthand the journey as well as the landscape of enlightenment.  This past year her teachings propelled me to deeper practice.  She explained that if you’re not working on being enlightened, life will push you toward it anyway. However, when you’re working consciously, you can manage your process.

Attaining enlightenment is not about leaving the world.  It’s about being in the world and doing the same things you would be doing.  Yet your actions are coming from a different perspective.  You make different decisions and the effects are different.  Enlightenment will not make your life easier; it won’t change what happens to you. Your life is different because who you are is different.

There were so many eye-openers over this past year.  Swamiji’s teachings showed me where I’ve been and where I am.  They showed me the promise of where I am going.  Swamiji assured us, “Every situation in our lives is designed to push us into transformation.”  When a situation is difficult, will I retreat and feel sorry for myself?  Or will I accept the difficulty, step forward and learn the lesson? 

I’ve come to see that the things we grumble about just push us forward.  Every situation, especially the ones that we resist and complain about, is designed to push our buttons.  Then I know, “Oh, I have more growth to do, and this situation is showing me what it is.”  With this understanding, I am less resistant to what happens in my life.  I am more present.

Swamiji emphasizes mantra and seva as most important for enlightenment in the midst of life.  Now mantra repetition often starts up in the background of my mind spontaneously.  It’s very comforting, very quieting, continuing underneath everything.  It reminds me that Kundalini is running things.  She realigns my body.  She wakes me up at 3 am to meditate.  She tells me when I need to stop my activity. She says, “You have to do Ujjayi now or you won’t be good for anything.”  And I love seva.  I find that whenever I am involved in seva it aligns me with Self.

In 2010, I took The Shiva Course, Swamiji’s first Year-Long Programme.  I have enrolled in every one since.  The conference calls as well as the in-person retreats have been very important.  These deep experiences have propelled me forward faster than any other experience.  Swamiji begins the group’s closing retreat at a much deeper level than any other retreat.  She says she can do this because of our shared learning throughout the year.

Sharing my experiences with others shows me when and how I am holding myself back.  At this last retreat, I noticed I was reluctant to give up an old anger.  I saw clearly that I was unwilling to release this pain.  Then I knew it was ridiculous.  The resulting re-direction to Self was delicious.  Ultimately, I learned that I am happier and more effective when I let Self take charge.  I tell my mind what I have heard before from Swamiji.  She quotes Baba Muktananda: “Be a servant to the Self; don’t try to be the boss.” I am looking forward to February 24.  That’s the date for the Free Intro Phone Call for the 2019 Year-Long Programme.  Give yourself a treat, and register for this call, too.

Deepening Your Yoga

By Carolyn (Karuna) Beaver

Ujjayi breaths, a Lunge or a few repetitions of mantra always help me hit my reset button.  These DIY (do it yourself) practices never fail.  In her January Teachings, Sadguru Nirmalananda offers us another.  It’s the first DIY “quick fix” in a year-long series.

The practice she offers is called “level up,” like reaching a higher level in a video game.  I was excited to see this one.  It’s something I already do in meditation.  Shortly after I settle into my seat, I often notice that I am leaning more weight into my right side than my left.  When I even out my weight, it automatically sends me deeper into my seat.  When that happens, I don’t feel as if I’m holding myself up.  My spine is weightless, strong and lengthened.  It provides the “up vibe” that our Sadguru describes.  It propels me deeper into meditation. 

In a New Year’s half-day Svaroopa® yoga workshop, I tried this out while standing.  We did the Tadasana variation of leaning weight first into one foot and leg, then the other. Then we allowed our weight to be even through the bones of both legs and feet.  As I stood evenly in my bones, I felt their solid support.  I then noticed the support offered to my spine.  Like the seated quick fix, my spine felt energized and elongated.  I’d reached a higher level, in the pose and in my Self. 

This is DIY yoga.  More importantly, it’s “deepen it yourself” yoga.  For years, Sadguru Nirmalananda has encouraged us to practice yoga’s many ways of deepening into who and what we really are, the One Self, Consciousness-Itself.  The familiar phrase “do more yoga” rings in my ears.  To ring in the new year, she’s also encouraging us to do “less” yoga, simply more often.

A quick fix can change everything.  It can hit your reset button, bringing you back to who you really are: Shiva.  Sadguru Nirmalananda says, “It’s easier to get back to your Self if you haven’t gone too far away.”  That’s what makes doing less yoga more often so effective.

Quick fixes do make you feel better.  And, of course you want to feel better, but it’s only because you don’t already feel better!  When you go chasing after worldly things, you’ll get worldly satisfaction, sometimes not even consistently.  The only place to find true fulfilment is inside, not outside.

What if your steady state was a higher state, based in your own inherent bliss and joy?  It can be.  Swamiji lives from this state consistently.  She learned to find it inside from her Guru, Baba Muktananda.  And we are learning it from Her.  You’ll find the bliss of your own Being, svaroopa, by looking inward, over and over and over again.  Do less yoga, more often, until over and over again becomes forever.

Staying Connected and Open

By Rose Koerner, Interviewed by
Phil (Krishna) Milgrom

“It was such a special experience being in Lokananda,” shares Rose Koerner.  “But when you move away from that, it’s hard to keep up the intensity of the opening.”  So, after Foundations in June 2018, Rose practiced Ujjayi and meditation daily as her Teacher Trainers had recommended.  She also attended yoga classes yet still felt herself slowly slipping downhill. “Being away from Swami and all,” she recounts, “the intensity of the opening eventually began to dim a little. I knew I had to do more.”

To stay inwardly open, Rose turned to the audio recordings available on the Ashram website.  That was and continues to be her saving grace. “Now when I listen to the recordings, they remind me of how I felt in the Foundations training,” she explains.  “That helps me stay strong and consistent in my living practice. The more opportunities I have to remember the wisdom in which the practices are rooted, the greater the connection I have with the practices as I go about my daily life.”

Rose appreciates the chronological organization of audio recordings on the website.  She could easily find Swamiji’s talk from the Swami Sunday during Rose’s June Foundations.  “Listening to the same talk that I heard at Lokananda especially helped revive the connection,” Rose says.  “Since I’d heard it live, there was more sensory information locked into it. Now I can remember more of my profound experience more easily.  It seems even more powerful now.  Listening to the audio at home is a good way to remind myself of what I learned in Foundations.”

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Even before Foundations, Rose listened to Swamiji’s recordings while commuting.  She drives 30 minutes to and from the school where she teaches 6th graders.  Listening to the recordings was an excellent way to continue learning more from Swami.  She also found it a good way to deal with the stress of the commute.  “It helped me feel more stable while driving,” Rose describes.  “I can listen to something much more enriching than the daily news, which could stress me out, and more enriching than whatever music pops up on the radio.  Then, when I listen at home, I have a notepad in front of me and jot down things that stand out.  Sometimes I draw a picture to interact with the talk a little more.” Whether in her car or at home, listening to the audio recordings keeps Rose’s Lokananda Foundations experience fresh and alive. It keeps her closer to Swami.  Listening to those recordings also keeps her rooted in the teachings that she cherishes as nourishment for her spiritual life.

The State of Seva

Devapriyaa Hills, Interviewed by Matrika Gast

“Seva is expanding at the Ashram.  While we are welcoming new sevites, many longtime sevites are taking on new sevas as well as giving more time to their original seva.  For more of us Svaroopis, seva has become established as an important part of life,” states Denise (Devapriyaa) Hills, Seva Coordinator. Our website describes seva:

…“selfless service,” work performed without any thought of reward or repayment. In India, seva is one of the ways to propel your spiritual growth while simultaneously contributing to the community.  

Devapriyaa continues, “Swami Nirmalananda personally picks the seva for each yogi.  There’s thus a lot of power and Grace when you receive your seva.

“Everyone has different reasons for offering seva.  Nearly a decade ago, when Swamiji founded the Ashram, Many yogis took on seva because they wanted to volunteer — to give back, engaging in the practice of karma yoga.  Now many more yogis choose to offer seva as an expression of devotion to Swamiji.  This devotional piece is bhakti yoga, another whole layer of practice that adds depth and sweetness to your life.  Seva is a sure-fire way to deepen your state, and stay in it, no matter your motivation.

“A couple of times a year, Assistant Seva Coordinator Bhadraa (Betsy) Archer and I phone sevites to hear how their seva is going.  Consistently, we hear ‘seva changed my life. Being able to give to Swami opens me to the abundant flow of Grace.’  Recently, a sevite told me ‘I get so much from this. I feel Guru’s Grace flowing through me all day now.’  Of course, as with any work, taking on a new seva can present difficulties or challenges.  But even this experience tends to be full of Grace. One longtime sevite quoted from Swamiji’s 2018 December Teachings to describe her experience: ‘Every challenging situation is designed to shine light in your blind spots.’”

Devapriyaa feels that the expansion of seva in our Ashram community is due to “more people making a commitment to the path of the Svaroopa® Sciences founded by Sadguru Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati.  Devotion to Swamiji is a strong factor.  It arises from the depth of her profound teachings, which are growing and expanding.  On this path you feel ‘The More.’  Feeling that draws many to seva, while seva opens you to the flow of Guru’s Grace more and more deeply.”

Sevites include yogis residing in and near Downingtown as well as yogis living at a distance throughout North America and Australia.  Recently, local sevites as well as those traveling to Downingtown have supported Swamiji in community outreach programs.  These special free events serve the community surrounding us, weaving us into it as well.  This past fall, Swamiji taught a free Introduction to Meditation for Caregivers, and spearheaded Lokananda’s participation in Halloween Trick or Treat as well as a Christmas Cookie Crawl (for which sevites baked).  This was especially festive because our holiday-decorated store front windows took first place in the Downingtown Holiday Decorations contest.” Interested in seva?  Devapriyaa shares that there are now 40 different categories of seva.  Swamiji is known to be creative if finding the perfect seva for you!  If you want Svaroopa® yoga to become even a deeper way of life on your chosen spiritual path, take on seva for our Guru and Ashram.  Starting at the beginning of a new year is auspicious.  For answers to questions, email Devapriyaa at seva@svaroopayoga.org. Or if you’re ready to apply, click here for the seva survey.  There’s something for everybody.

Mastery

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Your mastery of the poses depends more on your mind than your body.  When you’re upset, your yoga poses imperfect, even harder to do.  When you can’t focus, you’re more likely to injure yourself while practicing.  If you think mastery is about your body, you’re missing the point.  Yoga’s practices are all for your mind, not merely to change the content of your mind but to get you beyond your mind.

You know what it’s like to get beyond your mind.  When you walk out of class and your mind is clear, light and open, you’re experiencing an inner spaciousness without boundaries.  You can get the same feeling by standing at a lookout point and gazing at a beautiful view.  It’s because you get free from your mind, even if only for a few moments.

Baba Muktananda

What would it be like to live in that clear inner space all the time?  That’s the goal, as described by yoga’s great masters throughout the ages.  That’s why I went to live and study with my Baba, because he clearly lived in that depth, openness and ease.  It was easy to see in him, plus he explained it all.  Most valuable, it was completely contagious.  His inner bliss radiated off him, which is why I loved to sit with him.  I found my own Self when I sat with him; I knew who I was and why I’m here.

Your own Self is who you really are, beyond who you think you are.  Your busy thoughts construct a superficial sense of self, but there is more to you than that.  You have proven this by changing friends, jobs or even partners, moving on from who you used to be — to find out who you are now.  That inner resiliency and sense of continuity arise from a deeper inner level.  The source is your own Self.

Meditation masters propel you into the experience of your own Self.  They don’t just tell you about it, they give you the experience.  They don’t merely share techniques, their deep presence opens you up to a new level within.  They don’t try to fix you or improve you.  They recognize and revel in your inherent Divinity, which makes you able to do so too.  I know because I sat with one who gave me all of that and more.  I serve him by serving you.