Strengthening Through Shaktipat

By Kim Zikmund

I honestly didn’t know what to expect in the Shaktipat Day component of my Level 2 Yoga Teacher Training (YTT).  I was inexperienced, both as a student and as a teacher.  I didn’t even recognize the profound changes that were happening within me.

A year later, I again received Shaktipat from Sadguru Swami Nirmalananda in YTT Level 4.  From her teachings throughout the four levels of Svaroopa® YTT, I had a better understanding of the physical and mental changes that need to happen within me.  I welcomed those changes. 

I knew that I wanted to stop looking externally for things to make me happy, whole and complete.  I yearned for the teachings, the chanting and the physical changes.  I knew deepening these personal practices would bring me to know my own Divine essence.  I just couldn’t get enough.  My second Shaktipat experience was a profound one, making me realize all I needed was right there inside of me.  I didn’t need to look any further.  Rather, I simply needed some help to go deeper.

I received that help a few months later by attending a full weekend Shaktipat Retreat.  From many other students, I’d heard about the beneficial effects of Shaktipat.  I was overwhelmed with excitement to attend, and the retreat exceeded my expectations.  It helped me delve deeper into my Self.  It was a rich, fulfilling experience that made me realize I’d changed.  Yet I didn’t actually change.  I was just reacquainted with ME!  This lovely revelation presented itself at the opportune time.  I left that retreat knowing who I was and how that flow of Grace is always there for me anytime I need it.

Two weeks after leaving the retreat, my father became very ill.  He has a chronic disease, and I truly thought this was his time to leave this earth.  I didn’t have the opportunity to savor that Shaktipat flow of Grace.  I was thrown into long driving trips, early mornings and late nights.  I was supporting my parents, emotionally, physically and spiritually in any way that I could.  During this time, however, I noticed how I was just floating through the crisis.  Not attaching emotion to everything happening around me, I became present in every moment.  I was fully aware and watching things through a very different lens.  I was tapping into an inner source of strength.  It flowed from within and gave me the opportunity to be there for my parents when they needed me the most.  That flow of Grace didn’t need to be savored.  It was there, and I tapped into it.

“When I say, DO MORE YOGA, I mean that your yoga doesn’t stop when class ends.  Yoga pervades life.  Life becomes yoga.”  This is one of my favorite quotations from Swamiji.  With deep gratitude I thank her for helping me on my journey and look forward to attending many more retreats.

Gratitude to My Guru

By Peter Gallagher

What brought me to Svaroopa® Yoga was physical pain and mental exhaustion.  What kept me coming back to my local classes was the relief that I was getting.  Some 18 years ago, I went to a weekend workshop with Swamiji, then known as Rama Berch.  Besides the wonderful hands on instruction in the poses, she reawakened my keen interest in the spiritual.  From the beginning, she presented “Truth” with clarity, consistency and love.

Trust is a funny concept.  On one hand, it is earned; on the other, it is given. For me it is the reaching out from what I know to what is unknown.  When life falls apart, as it sometimes does, I retreat from the edge of trust back towards center, to what I know experientially.  By following Swamiji’s oft-repeated advice to do more yoga, I have an action plan to once again move towards Inner Source.  With time and practice, I do not retreat as far as I used to.

Fear and, less often the lack of fear, tells me where my boundaries lie.  Utilizing Swamiji’s many gifts to us enables me sit with the not-knowing and soften into it.

Often, it seems to me that what she has written was specifically written for me.  For instance, in her September Teachings, she writes, “You don’t have to change your life, merely add a new dimension to it – your own Self.”  She gives me permission to travel at my own pace. 

Simultaneously she reminds me of all the benefits that I have received from the practices and teachings she has given us.  Ladling more yoga into my life has improved the quality of my life…outside and inside.  The call to do more yoga is not shouted or demanded.  Rather, it reaches into me as a loving reminder that it is time to turn towards home.

Getting older is an adventure.  The gradual loss or sudden decline in physical abilities can be disconcerting.  Doing my Svaroopa® yoga and meditation practices positively affects my physical wellbeing.  More importantly, they enable me to become aware of capital-S Self and my small-s self simultaneously.  These practices reliably and consistently quiet my mind and allow joy to arise. They are a gift from Swamiji that keeps on giving. The pace I travel is my own. Fortunately, the quality of Grace is unchanged.  It is fully given, never pulled back.  I benefit each time Swamiji through her words and actions calls me back to the Source.  For the gifts that I can perceive, and for those not yet unwrapped, I am truly grateful.

Time Was Short

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

I always knew that my time with him would be short.  I felt that if I didn’t go right then, I wouldn’t have another chance.  I was unfortunately right.  I had almost 7 years with Muktananda, though I’d still be there if he were there.  He’s not.  Instead, he lives in my heart and soul — and sources me from deeper within. 

That day, October 2 1982, I phoned my roommate in Madrid, where I’d been setting up a yoga program for Baba’s Ashram.  I was on a weekend trip to a small Mediterranean town and called in from a public phone booth before heading home.  Maruja said to me, “Baba ha deja su cuerpo.”  I knew enough Spanish to translate it, but I told her that I didn’t understand.  Really, I didn’t want to understand.  She repeated it twice, then finally said it in English, “Baba has left his body.  Baba died.”

I knew it was true because, the night before, I’d experienced him filling me like never before.  I sat and watched the Mediterranean sunset for hours.  Mostly it was orange, then finally purple and black.  I watched on the outside but something phenomenal was happening on the inside.  I knew he was speaking to me.  I didn’t have words for it then but now I know, he was becoming me.  Except I had always been him, although I hadn’t known it.  There is only One.  You are that One, too. 

I rode the mantra all the way back, with it upwelling inside as the bus made its way through the picturesque countryside.  It was beautiful, but I didn’t need beauty to fill me up anymore.  When I got back, we chanted 24/7 for a month.  I didn’t need the chant to fill me either.  I was already full.

Baba had prepared us.  Again and again he had explained that, when a great being leaves his body, he merges into Consciousness and abides in the inner space of the hearts of his devotees.  I hadn’t been able to imagine it, but now I was experiencing it.

With time, I forgot.  I never forgot Baba, of course, but I forgot to look inside for him.  I chased sweet memories as well as the painful ones.  I visited other Gurus, who were wonderful, but they weren’t Baba.  I cried sometimes, screamed into my pillow a few times, and finally found my way back home, inside, where he was already and always present. 

I am never lonely now.  Because I am not alone.  Even when I try to think I am different from him, he keeps me on track inside.  Because there is nowhere else to go.  There is nothing else to be.  There is nothing else to do but to serve him.  Life is so beautiful.  I serve you in order to serve him. 

Jai Muktananda!  Hail to Muktananda!

What is an Ashram?

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

An intentional community, based in shared spiritual practices, is an extraordinary place to live. The support of scheduled practices, communal meals and like-minded housemates is  wonderfully intensified by the energy of the tradition and the teacher who leads it.  I’ve lived in Ashrams under different spiritual heads, each with their own personality and quirks, yet found them all to be a catalyst to powerful transformation and spiritual advancement.

When you do yogic practices alone, you get guaranteed results, but they are much more powerful when done within an engaged community.  I know because I’ve lived in Ashrams for almost 30 years.  It’s actually the time that I’ve lived outside of an Ashram that makes it clear how purposeful Ashram living is.  Each time I’ve found myself “out there,” living on my own again, I missed the energetic support the Ashram provided, even more than the familial interactions and social structure.

The energetic support comes from the one who leads the practice.  Traditionally, the head of the Ashram must be authorized to serve in this role, due to their mastery of the teachings and practices.  In Buddhism it’s called “dharma heir,” with many of the classical traditions now acknowledging Western-born teachers at this level, both men and women.  Similarly, the paramparas (ancient lineages of India) have now “authorized” many in the West.

Most Ashrams offer public programs, though they are the tip of the iceberg.  What goes on in the wee hours of the morning, throughout the Ashram’s day and at day’s end fills your heart and deepens your soul.  Each member of the group who delves so deeply contributes to the others, which overflows to those who participate in the public offerings.  It’s easy to tell the difference.  Simply meditate in a group of Ashram residents and compare that to meditating in a group of seekers who live independently.  Wow! This week we celebrate the 10th birthday of Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram.  We’ve been doing practices in Downingtown PA since 2009.  Please join us at our free meditation programs (click here).  We’d love to meet you and support you in your spiritual development through yoga.  That’s why we’re here.

Happy 10th Birthday, Svaroopa Vidya Ashram!

By Kusuma Sachs, Kelly Sharp and Shelley Zeichner

Interviewed by Lori Kenney and Marlene Gast

Ten years ago, Swami Nirmalananda and a group of dedicated yogis opened Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram.  To celebrate the end of ten years and the beginning of ten more, the authors of this blog will speak in Downingtown at Swami Sunday, September 29.  Here they reflect on what brought them to the Ashram and what it means to them.

Kushala SharpKelly (Kushala) Sharp reflects on the change in her relationship with the Ashram over time.  She had worked for Swami Nirmalananda at Master Yoga Foundation, the original Svaroopa® yoga teacher training institute, before it merged with the Ashram.  Then she moved back to the Rehoboth Beach area where, “I could walk to work.”  Kushula continues, “During most of the next five years, I was plagued by a feeling of not knowing what I was going to do for the rest of my life.  I didn’t have any goals.  I felt lost and empty.

“Then I returned for a teacher training.  I had forgotten how good it felt to be nourished physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Having everything under one roof in Lokananda meant our meals and sleeping arrangements were all taken care of for us.  Not having to worry about that, we could just dive in deep.

“Now I go to the Ashram every Sunday.  I love to chant.  Sitting with my Guru is very sweet.  I’m struck by the effect she has on my state.  I so appreciate that she’s reflecting our divinity back to us, always.  She’s a mirror.  She’s not making it about her; she’s constantly teaching us to look within.  I’m able to hear what she’s saying and appreciate it in a whole new way.  I’m not plagued by feeling lost anymore and feel so at home.  It’s like home was just waiting for me.”

Shelley ZeichnerShelley Zeichner says, “Every Sunday, I go to hear Swamiji’s discourse.  It’s so eye-opening that I think it can’t get any better than this.  I must be enlightened!  And yet, every time I go, it happens again — she says something that goes beyond what I can imagine.

“On the Sunday when Swamiji had just returned from India, there was even more of that ‘something’ emanating from her than usual.  Swamiji described visiting a Buddhist temple.  As she was leaving the site, someone asked if she had seen the Shivalinga.  She hadn’t, so she went back in, but still didn’t see it.  They explained that the stone of the linga had been touched by so many devotees that it was worn away.  The energy of it was still there, but not the form.  I was struck by that.  Sometimes I have family members who come to me with their problems.  It wears me down until I feel like nothing is left.  I realized I could be like the Shiva Linga.  When I feel I have nothing left to give, I remember devotion, giving and receiving is a blessing.

“I am incredibly grateful for these ‘ah ha’ moments.  When I go to Swami Sunday this week, I know it will happen again even though I think, ‘What could Swamiji possibly say that goes beyond what she said last week?’  I can’t wait to find out!”

kusuma-1810-1.jpg“From its birth,” describes Karobi (Kusuma) Sachs, “the Ashram has been a place of consistent practice with devotion.  In the very beginning, Swami Nirmalananda established morning, noon, and evening rituals.  For ten years, Sri Guru Gita has been chanted by residents every morning.  Japa is practiced before lunch daily.  Evening satsang with arati (a flame ceremony) concludes the day.  The Ashram has grown around these supportive rituals the way a house forms around posts and beams.

“Although I’d been a Svaroopa® Yoga Teacher Trainer for nearly a decade, I didn’t immediately become an Ashram resident.  Still, when I told Swamiji I was interested in the daily Guru Gita, she invited me to take part.  This meant a half-hour early morning drive.  I did it consistently, even in snowstorms.  A year later, after an amazing trip with Swamiji in India, I moved in.  On that trip I had felt surrounded by Consciousness.  There was such ease in being with her.  Moving day was exuberant.  Once I was over the threshold, Swamiji asked me, ‘Don’t you feel lighter?’

“I’d lived in spiritual communities before, so group living was not an unusual experience.  Yet living in the Ashram was more centered — the center being the Guru.  Given her presence, I have gone beyond where I thought I could go.  This supports me in my commitment to training Svaroopa® Yoga teachers.  Swamiji’s teachings at all levels, so clear and digestible, resonate within me.  I am still excited every time I teach the pose protocols she pioneered.

“The past six months, I’ve shifted into being more present and aware in all I do.  I treasure all that Swamiji is offering us in her talks and insights as well as her silent presence in meditation.  I am grateful to be in the presence of such a remarkable teacher.  I appreciate what she, as a Guru, offers, always helping me to be more conscious in Consciousness.  She has taken me onto the path of Self-Realization. She guides me forward, respecting my individual pace.  As the Ashram celebrates its 10th birthday, I am grateful for all the gifts I have received.  My life has opened to an unforeseen level of growth, awareness, self-reflection and understanding.

shivaloka-nataraja-3.jpg“Over the past 10 years, the Ashram has come into its own like a child growing up. A vivid outer example is how the Shivaloka gardens have transformed.  Every year, building on what has come before, has resulted in extraordinary grounds.  We are now a certified monarch butterfly sanctuary.  Our lovely flowering perennials and shrubs provide nectar for bees in spring, summer and fall.  In creating the Ashram, as in her teaching, Swamiji has a vision of how Consciousness can bring any one of us — or even a place — into fruition.

“It is impossible to truly comprehend the transformation that living in the Ashram brings about.  As Sri Guru Gita says,

I bow to the Honored Guru,

who illumines all that exists,

but whom the mind can never know.

He is beyond the mind’s three states. – verse 38

“I am blessed to be part of the unfoldment of the Ashram.  It has sprung from Swami Nirmalananda’s vision.  It is the gift of a lifetime.”

Drawn Like a Moth to the Flame

by Carolyn (Karuna) Beaver

Having a Guru means you have made a choice to put yourself in the fire of yoga. As Swami Nirmalananda said in a 2015 year-long course on spiritual development, Gurus “are born of the fire, which means they burn the density and darkness out of you.”  Having a Guru is not easy. This is because Gurus are fiery!

I knew Swamiji was going to be my Guru the first time I met her, more than 13 years ago. She encouraged us to go out and meet enlightened beings and to find a Guru, saying that she was not one. But I somehow knew that she WAS a Guru, or at least would be one day. I could feel what I thought was “energy” coming from her. I could sense the potential not only of the practices she was teaching me, but where it came from.

I was drawn like a moth to the flame, but I had a clear recognition that I could get burned. Her presence scared the crap out of me! She minced no words. She was clear and direct, but not always kind. I sensed the depth of her knowledge and authority, but also her capacity. I knew I could learn so much from her, more than kindness alone could ever teach.

And I have. I made my way through various levels of Svaroopa® yoga teacher training, and then Svaroopa® Vidya meditation teacher training. I felt the power of the practices outside and inside. I decided I wanted to give back to the organization and the teacher that had given me so much. I decided I wanted a closer relationship with Swamiji – then, still Rama. I began doing seva and was eventually asked to join the Board of Directors.

Talk about being in the fire! But it’s just where I want to be. Swami pushes me to do more, to be more. She pushes me to be more my Self. She pushes me to look into the dark corners of my being. She shines light into the gnarly nooks and crannies of my mind. It isn’t pretty. And it isn’t easy. If I’d wanted easy, I wouldn’t have chosen to be in relationship with a fiery Guru. She is always teaching and testing me.

I’ve learned that her direct comments are not to put me down or make me feel bad. Only my insecurities can make me feel bad. I use those words to look deeper within my Self, to peel back layers of emotional “gunk.” I’ve dealt with habitual patterns of behavior that have held me back for decades. I am becoming more Me. I am becoming more my Self. I’m a work in progress.

But I have a goal. I want to become Self-Realized in this lifetime. And I know that I cannot do it on my own. I need my feet held to the fire to keep me accountable. I know my Guru already sees that I am Divine. I need her light to help me see my Self for myself. She knows what I am ready for and gives me a nudge when needed, so I can take the next step.

The Fix That Sticks

By Carolyn (Karuna) Beaver

It’s a DIY world.  You can retile your bathroom or create a garden oasis in a weekend.  Television home and garden shows assure you it can be done.  I love a good home improvement project.  But I am not naïve enough to think I have done it all myself.  Yes, I picked out the materials and followed the directions, but I had help from those who described how the project should be done, step by step.

I used to meditate in the same way, picking up how to’s from books, videos and CDs.  While these meditations offered fairly clear steps, they never stuck with me.  I’d get tired of them and move on to something else.  They made me feel better, but they didn’t stick.

They were quick fixes, seemingly like the one offered in Swami Nirmalananda’s September Teachings: Meditate As You’d Like.  She cites Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 1.39:

yatha-abhimata dhyaanaad vaa.

Or meditate on whatever you like

[when your mind is distracted or disturbed]

She suggests that you meditate for just a minute and says it will make you feel better.  It likely will not provide a deep or mystical experience, she adds, nor will it lead to Self-Realization.  Still, the beauty of a quick fix is that it is an anywhere, anytime practice.  You can use it when your distractible mind needs it the most.  You can always stop for a minute and meditate on something you like.  Patanjali suggests this will ease your disturbed mind.  

Swamiji says you can meditate on what you want, for the length of time you want.  You can be in any physical position, using whatever methodology you want.  And it will make you feel better.  Swamiji’s quick fix, based on Patanjali’s sutra, differs from my early quick fixes.  Her quick fix is a prelude to the kind of meditation that takes you all the way to Self-Realization. 

But how much better do you want to feel? I have discovered that I want to feel a lot better, and all the time!  I can still use a quick fix occasionally, but the long-term fix is to meditate longer.

This month’s quick fix has deepened my knowing.  If I want the experiences that lead to Self-Realization, I need to sit upright. I need to use a time-tested methodology.  It should be given by a teacher who has been trained and authorized to share it with me.

That’s why the books, videos and CDs didn’t work for me.  They didn’t have the energy of a meditation master behind them.  They were the products of unenlightened beings. Luckily, I have a master teacher in Swami Nirmalananda.  She’s given me the enlivened mantra Om Namah Shivaya. She was authorized to give it to me by her teacher, who was authorized by his teacher. It’s been handed down from generation to generation in a lineage of Shaktipat Gurus.  The Grace of our tradition ensures that meditating with our mantra is the fix that sticks.