By Sonya (Shraddhananda) McNeill, interviewed by Lissa (Yogyananda) Fountain
Sonya McNeill’s life hasn’t been the same since she met Gurudevi 16 years ago. Now called Shraddhananda, she’d been meditating since childhood. By 2002 she was experiencing unusual meditation movements and visions. In January 2004 she reached out to her old friend Swami Samvidaananda (then Maria Abbruzzi), whom she hadn’t seen in a decade.
Samvid said, “Come to Rehoboth Beach Yoga. My teacher is offering ‘Meditation Made Easy.’” Shraddhananda recounts, “Despite an ailing back, I crawled up the steep staircase to the yoga studio, dragging my walker with me. Once there, I was supported by Grace. It took three chairs and — I always jokingly say — 32 blankets to make me comfortable in meditation. After the second meditation, I asked Gurudevi, “Who is the brown guy with the long fingers? He keeps putting his hand on my shoulder. And everything was blue, and I felt like I was swaying side to side?” To which Gurudevi replied, “Everything is blue and you were swaying. And that was my Baba’s Baba, Nityananda putting his hand on your shoulder.”
Shraddhananda continues, “Before I knew what a Guru was, I wanted her. I had always followed Jesus. But it became clear that Jesus sent me to Nityananda. Nityananda brought me to Gurudevi, to learn this aspect of Being. He knew I needed a Great Being in a body to learn what I needed to know. Even though Gurudevi was five years away from taking her Sannyas vows, I recognized who she was. It didn’t matter what she was called. Being in relationship with her changed my life.”
In 2009, the Ashram opened the Ashram. Shraddhananda began a nine-year part-time residency. She commuted from her home in Virginia, later in Maryland, to bask in the joy of personal seva (service) to the Guru. “She altered my soul,” shares Shraddhananda. “Once I met her, there was no going anywhere else. No one else had the answers to my questions. Gurudevi became the bow of my boat. Periodically, she’d be the rudder, reminding me I was veering off, and she’d move me.”
“While I was a part-time resident, Gurudevi never got in my way. She gave me freedom to express who I was. While expressing my small-s self in new and creative ways, I was supported by Gurudevi in finding my capital-S self. For example, I wasn’t a confident baker or cook, yet was asked to make a vegan birthday cake for Baba! At first, I was scared. Yet the cake turned out great. And my inner artist, once insecure, has been given wonderful art projects to accomplish. Truly, the Guru helps us get past our small-s self’s limitations.”
Shraddhananda describes the revelatory power of Grace that is in fact, the Guru. “My soul and mind are now satisfied with what is, and what my part is in each moment,” describes Shraddhananda. “Gurudevi’s teachings and our relationship has freed me to the point I now rely on Grace. Grace will always provide the answers. I never doubt it. My life has been soaked in it. I am swimming in an ocean of Grace, 24/7.”