Category Archives: Ashram News

Bliss is Your Birthright!

By Ruth (Rama) Brooke

I couldn’t conceive of it when I first heard Gurudevi Nirmalananda say, “Bliss is your birthright!”  I knew the kind of joy and happiness that comes and goes.  But what was the bliss she referred to?

In a beautiful poem, the 8th century yogic sage Shankaracharya wrote, “chidananda rupah,” my nature is the bliss of Pure Consciousness.  In saying “My nature is bliss,” Shankaracharya affirms that bliss is a natural state, a birthright.  We think we need to hunt for it.  We search for it in everything and everywhere we go.  Yet it’s inherent to the human being.  Each of us has the blissful capacity of awareness and knowingness.

This bliss of Pure Consciousness is found on the inside.  You turn inward to find what yoga calls the capital-S Self.  It is so close, a breath away, just behind the mind’s thoughts and activities.  Your own Self is the Self that you were when you were a child.  You are that same Self now.  Through meditation you can experience this again and again.  Meditation quiets your mind, so you experience your own Self and its qualities of bliss, awareness and knowingness.  Nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one else to be.  This is your natural state of being.  It is truly bliss-full. 

Through meditation, I now know the bliss that arises from within.  I access it daily; it’s no longer blocked from my view.  Bliss is eternal.  It need not fluctuate with the external circumstances of life’s inevitable ups and downs.  Bliss is always there, in you too.  You can reliably open into it.  This is the promise of Svaroopa® Vidya Meditation, taught by Gurudevi Nirmalananda, my Guru.  Through this practice, you experience your own Self and its ever-arising qualities of bliss, peace, quietude, compassion, love and more.  Meditation transforms your mind so that you can experience your Self while still engaging in the world.  You learn to bring your bliss with you into your life.  While in this state, you remain centered.  You are the calm eye of the storm even while turbulent times swirl around you.  You are joyful, even experiencing bliss through bittersweet events.  The light of the Self shines through you in all that you do, and into your relationships.

Yummy Tofu Breakfast

By Swami Sahajananda Saraswati

When I prepared Noochy Baked Tofu for breakfast along with Couscous and Pineapple Chutney, I was surprised at the ease and delicious tastes.  The highlight was the Noochy Tofu, but the Pineapple Chutney was not far behind.  Savory and salty, the tofu benefits from nutritional yeast (a special ingredient from my old hippie days).  The chutney is sour, sweet, hot and pungent with walnuts added right before serving for the bitter taste and crunch.  The couscous cooked with some ghee gave a balance to the distinct flavors of both other dishes.

I like that this tofu recipe gives me such a simple and flavorful way to make tofu.  For years, I have worked with tofu a lot, trying to make it pleasing to those who experience it as bland and boring.  I have tried pressing the water from the tofu overnight so itcan absorb more flavor from whatever I cook it in.  I have fried, sautéed and baked it in many different marinades.  Yet this simple recipe with four ingredients does it all.  It also eliminates the work of dealing with messy marinades and standing at the stove watching that the tofu doesn’t stick to the pan.  You just pop it in the oven and bake it.

The tofu recipe’s author, Isa Chandra Moskowitz (theppk.com) has written many vegan cookbooks.  She and says she ate this tofu through high school because it was so easy.  I followed her recipe as it was written, which is not usually how I cook.  But this one works, so I have no secret tips.  Enjoy!

Noochy Baked Tofu with Couscous and Pineapple Chutney

Serves: 2-4 people

Protein: 21 grams (entrée + sides)

Six Tastes:

Sweet = tofu, couscous, pineapple

Salty = tamari/soy sauce

Sour = pineapple, vinegar

Astringent = tofu, vinegar

Bitter = walnuts

Pungent = onion, ginger

Ingredients & Instructions

FOR THE TOFU:

  • 14-ounce package extra-firm tofu, drained and chopped into medium chunks
  • 1 tablespoon oilive oil
  • 1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes

FOR THE PINEAPPLE CHUTNEY[1]:

  • 1/2 cup onion (chopped)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 2 1/2 cups pineapple (chopped)
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

FOR THE TOFU: Preheat the oven to 350⁰ F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place the tofu on the baking sheet and drizzle with the oil and tamari. Sprinkle with the salt and several dashes of black pepper. Use your hands to flip and coat. Sprinkle with the nutritional yeast and flip again to coat.

Assemble tofu in a single layer. Bake for 20 minutes, until crisp and lightly browned. Use a spatula to flip and bake for 10 more minutes.

While hot, serve on a bed of cooked couscous.  Tofu may be served cold and refrigerated up to 3 days.

FOR THE PINEAPPLE CHUTNEY:

In a heavy saucepan, combine the onion, honey, vinegar, pineapple, curry powder, ginger, salt and red pepper flakes and mix well.

Put the pan on the stovetop and cook over high heat until the mixture comes to a full rolling boil, stirring frequently.

Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally so the food doesn’t burn, until the pineapple is tender and mixture is thickened, about 20-30 minutes.

Take the pan off the heat and allow the chutney to cool slightly. While still warm, add the walnuts, stir well and serve immediately, as a side dish with the meal.  Chutney may be refrigerated for up to 3 days.


[1] Chutney recipe inspired by thespruceeats.com.

What’s the Destination?

By Gurudevi Nirmalananda

Life didn’t have a clear destination, not that I could identify.  It’s very clear to me when I travel.  I get off the airplane or out of the car or train after several hours, and I’m in a whole new place.  Waking up the next morning is different than the day before.  I’ve arrived.  The things I will do are different, things that are specific to this new place I’ve come to.

That didn’t happen for me after I graduated from school and had the big wedding.  I got the big job, was promoted several times and broke the glass ceiling for women in the firm.  Even though I did everything right, I never felt like I’d arrived.  Life didn’t really change.  All the things I did continued to be quite mundane, not fulfilling really.

No wonder I kept looking.  I called myself a seeker, but I didn’t know what I was seeking.  Yoga classes helped.  At least they lowered my stress level, stress that was basically a feeling of being underwhelmed by life.  Isn’t there something more? 

I was willing to work hard in order to get whatever I would get.  I knew how to apply myself to reaching a goal but I couldn’t find a destination worth arriving at.  Until I got Shaktipat.  It was a breakthrough moment, a pivot point that changed my life for the better.  While nothing changed on the outside, it opened the door to a new level of fulfillment on the inside.  It showed me the goal and gave me a way to get there.

Baba Muktananda giving Shaktipat

“Know Thyself” had guided my quest before.  I felt the power of the saying echoing from the ancient Greeks, but even my graduate work in psychology didn’t help me attain it.  Shaktipat gave me a way to do it.   More importantly, the experience redefined “Self” for me.  Beyond theory, I had a tangible, undeniable, in-lightening inner experience of my own Self, defined by yoga as “your inherent Divinity.” 

Even more valuable, this inner experience repeated itself every morning in my meditation, for Shaktipat had awakened the inner power that fueled my spiritual quest.  Each day, I was pulled deeper and deeper within.  I could feel the profound progress.  I could see the changes in my mind, heart and life.  I was no longer a seeker.  I became a finder.  I found my own Self.  That changed everything. Now I serve others by giving them the same jump start.  The fire of yoga, awakened within, climbs your spine, clears your mind and opens your heart.  This mystical force is both Divine and human, for it shines the light on the reality of your own multidimensionality.  Once you’ve received Maha-Shaktipat Diksha, you’ll never be the same.  Thank God!  You’ll be more you, expanding into your fullness and blossoming into your greatness.  That’s the destination.  That’s what yoga is all about.

CD Review: Meditation Deep & Easy

By Andrea (Arya) Perry, interviewed by Lori (Priya) Kenney

“This CD has inspired and motivated me to do more japa, more meditation, and even more chanting.  I am grateful for it.  Thank you Gurudevi!” says Andrea (Arya) Perry.

When I invited Arya to review Gurudevi Swami Nirmalananda’s CD Meditation Deep & Easy, she proclaimed, “I believe my life purpose, my dharma, is to live established in Self.  I use this CD as a tool to support me on this quest.”

Meditation Deep & Easy includes three tracks.  The first two are Gurudevi singing the mantra, then speaking the mantra out loud (japa).  On the third track, Gurudevi guides you in using the mantra for your entry into meditation.  The CD makes it easy for you to find your way inward to Self, the focus and purpose of Svaroopa® Vidya Meditation.  Many yogis in the Svaroopa® Vidya community use this CD as meditation preparation.  Gurudevi’s guidance into meditation illuminates their pathway into Self. 

Arya describes, “I wanted the experience of doing japa with Gurudevi.  In contrast to repeating the mantra alone, hearing Gurudevi’s voice doing japa or chanting the mantra gives me a ‘connection booster’ to Self.  It immerses me in the flow of Grace.  It makes connection to and establishment in Self easier, faster and stronger.”

“I am just ending 18 months that were both trying and challenging.  Until her death in May, I shared caregiving responsibilities for my beloved mother-in-law of 49 years with my husband and his two siblings.  During this time, my husband underwent two hip replacement surgeries.  Stress and tensions were high, sending my mind and emotions way out of control.  During these periods, I was grateful for all the yogic tools that I had available to bring me back to Self.  I also appreciate these experiences.  I am grateful for them because I could see them as opportunities for growth and development.”

“In the final months of this period,” describes Arya, “the CD was one of these tools.  It motivated and supported my doing japa during the 40-mile drives to my mother-in-law’s house.  I’ve always been self-conscious about singing.  My small-s self says, ‘Am I doing it right?’  For this reason, chanting has never been my forte.  Despite this, one evening on my 40-mile drive, I found myself chanting along with the CD with all my heart and soul.  I found bliss and joy.”

“I have a saying that Consciousness provides me with what I need, when I need it, as I need it, even when I don’t even know I need it.  This request to do this interview drew my awareness back to the CD.  I hadn’t thought of using it since May, when my caregiving responsibilities ended.  In the middle of the night, just prior to the interview, my mind was raging out of control.  I could not reign it in to go to sleep despite Ayurvedic practices, Ujjayi Pranayama and japa.  My mind and body obstinately resisted asana and meditation.  Because the CD had been freshly planted in my mind by the interview request, the thought to use it as a solution came to mind.  Consequently, listening to Gurudevi chanting and doing japa effectively deactivated my mind.  Grounded in Self, I drifted off to sleep.”

Arya continues, “Living at a distance limits how often I can physically visit the Ashram and be in Gurudevi’s presence.  The CD provides me with the Ashram experience.  I can be in Gurudevi’s presence long distance.  And it’s portable.  I can have it anytime, day or night and anywhere, in my living room, my car, my bedroom or elsewhere.”

Swami Nirmalananda’s Meditation, Deep & Easy CD is available for purchase from the Ashram Shop.

A Deeper Place Than I’ve Ever Been

By Loretta Forsythe, interviewed by Lissa Yogyananda Fountain

“I can see how Grace has guided me my whole life to find Svaroopa® yoga, and to have Gurudevi as my Guru,” shares Loretta Forsythe.  About ten years ago, Loretta found a Svaroopa® yoga teacher near her home in the Poconos.  After her first class, she felt she was in “new body” with “a deeper inner connection.”  Soon thereafter, she retired, took Svaroopa® Yoga Teacher Training, and offered classes herself for about six years.  But life had another plan.

“When I moved to Delaware last year,” describes Loretta, “I decided to hold off on teaching and concentrate on my health and healing.  Through my yoga and meditation practices as well as vichara sessions, I realized I had a lot of ‘stuff’ to work through.  I prayed to Shiva: ‘Do Your work and guide me through this.’  I wanted to be healed and become Self-Realized.  Throughout this ongoing purification process, I feel Gurudevi’s teachings supporting me.  I am in a deeper place than I have ever been.”

Despite health challenges, Loretta has continued all the Svaroopa® Sciences practices at Rehoboth Beach Yoga.  She attends satsangs, takes classes and has started Overlap Healing Embodyment® sessions.  She also looks to Ayurveda and Vichara for healing.

“But,” says Loretta, “it is in Gurudevi’s online Meditation Club that I have experienced the greatest breakthroughs.”  When the Meditation Club was announced, Loretta enthusiastically joined.  She recalls, “Before the Meditation Club, I meditated daily.  But it was difficult to stay in it.  My mind would say, ‘Ok, how many minutes do we have left? Aren’t we done yet?’  My physical pain was distracting as well.  And although I got a lot of kriyas (spontaneous movements that clear energy blockages), they would take me OUT of meditation.

“I had always wanted to get up earlier for my meditations, so the 6:30 a.m. start time forces me!”  Loretta describes a profound shift in her meditations now: “Meditating with Gurudevi, the other swamis and 50 or more other yogis, powers my meditation.  I feel Guru’s Grace and Shakti really come through.  I also joined Gurudevi’s online Japa Club.  Right after each twice daily phone call, I slip into an easy 20-to-30-minute meditation! 

“I was still having kriyas from the beginning to the end of my meditations.  One day I made the decision that when the kriyas started, I’d accept them and not allow them to pull me out.  It was the Self speaking through my mind: ‘Now is the time to go deeper.’  I felt myself going into more of the Self — an inner expansion.  Now when I am in meditation, I’m aware of something bigger than what I thought I was.” 

Loretta’s discovery of Self is ongoing, filled with moments of radical awareness.  “During the last meditation of the recent Chant & Meditation Retreat weekend,” she recounts, “I was keeping the mantra going, even while my mind was all over the place.  Then in a split second, everything went quiet, except for the mantra.  I took a step back and wondered, ‘Where’s my thinking mind?  My mind is saying mantra, so who’s the one watching my mind do this?  This must be the Self.’  It wasn’t an ecstatic moment, but more like a knowing that had always been there.  ‘Wow,’ I thought, ‘I’m telling my mind to say mantra.  I can tell my mind what to think.  AND I don’t have to be thinking all the time!’”

Gurudevi’s Guru, Baba Muktananda, is famous for saying “My mind wouldn’t dare think a thought without my permission.”  Loretta sees that being in this state of quiet mind is her way to Self-Realization.  She says, “Throughout the day, when the chitter chatter says, ‘Come to me,’ that’s my mind controlling me.  Now I recognize that I don’t have to listen.  I can control my mind, because I am more than my mind.  I am the Self.  So I tell my mind, we’re going to repeat mantra.”

Gurudevi’s readings from sacred texts before the Meditation Club and the Japa Club have given Loretta a deeper understanding of the importance of always repeating mantra.  She adds, “It is both humbling and auspicious to be involved so deeply with Gurudevi.  I feel so blessed.”

Enlightenment & Karma

By Satguru Swami Nirmalananda

The recent hurricane flooded the Ashram’s yard, creating a river that flowed right into our basement.  Ashram residents began digging trenches in the mud and bailing water out from window wells.  The plumber came and replaced the sump pump.  The landscaper came and added a drainage pipe to the trenches dug by our amateurs, which he officially approved as being perfectly placed.  We swept and bailed in the basement, trying to contain the water in non-carpeted areas.  Two hours later, everyone was done, drenched to the skin and laughing.

Being enlightened doesn’t mean that everything in the world goes smoothly.  It simply means that you’re not upset when things are hard.  If you’re interested in enlightenment because you want life to go smoothly, you’re looking in the wrong place.  Enlightenment is not about how things go on the outside.  It is about how you are on the inside – always full of light, even in the dark of the night, even when your karma is catching up with you.

Enlightenment doesn’t mean that you’re free from karma.  If you’ve got a body, you’ve still got karma.  What enlightenment does is give you better karma.  How?  Because you’re no longer doing things for your own satisfaction.  Everything you do is in service to others, which gives you very good karma.  It’s only your selfishness that gives you future karmic pain.

Why are you selfish?  Because you feel needy, and it has been your experience that other people are not prioritizing your needs over theirs.  They did when you were an infant, but that time is over.  Maybe you still want to be waited on in that way?  You can move to a senior facility and get them to do everything for you.  I’ve seen people in their 50’s residing in such retirement homes, no longer having to pump out wet basements or even do their own laundry.  It used to be that you could live on a cruise ship, always on the way to some exotic port, but that’s not good for your health right now. Your neediness simply dissolves when you experience your own deeper essence.  Your self-centeredness fades away, even disappearing from your memory, when you live in the fullness of your own inherent Divinity.  You still take care of your body, but it really has few needs when you get right down to it.  Your heart overflows with the bliss of your own being and your mind looks for ways to serve others.  It’s such an easy way to live, even when the yard is flooding and the basement needs to be pumped out.  Do more yoga.

Why I Meditate

By Lynn (Gurupremananda) Cattafi

I don’t meditate for enjoyment or peace.  That may sound strange.  Unless I settle deep into samadhi, meditation is not peaceful for me.  A blissful state, samadhi is a profound inner absorption into Consciousness.  When not sinking in, however, my mind is even more active than during the rest of the day.  

So why do I sit to meditate?  That’s easy!  I meditate for what meditation is giving me when I am off my meditation seat.  I meditate for how meditation is transforming my life and how I experience the world.  Now, everything is sacred.  Everything has profound meaning.

I must admit that I spent years in resistance to this inner transformation.  It was a constant internal tug-of-war.  I would dive headfirst into the yogic fire, the transforming power of Grace.  But then I’d hold back with a death grip.  I wanted to prevent anything in my life from changing too much.  I did this push and pull for years.  The word “renunciation” terrified me.  I thought everything would be out of my control.  I feared what yoga was going to take away from me.

Now I am free of this resistance and fear, for which I’m eternally grateful.  Guru’s Grace and Shaktipat are the root of my inner transformation.  Additionally, two recent events “conspired” to further rid me of this fear and resistance.  First, I had the seva (selfless service) of supporting our new swamis in their initiation into renunciation.  My role was to assist them with mundane aspects of preparing for their vows.  Little did I know, I was reciprocally adapting to their graceful process.  Truly amazing, it was so easy!   My life did not blow up.  I lost nothing except the fear, while my long-held attachments dissolved.  It all simply got easier, because I was no longer grasping those things.  I didn’t need them to create my sense of self.

The second event that pushed me through further was the pandemic.  Because of the shutdown, I had to temporarily relinquish my regular Ashram visits.  It was like a death.  I had become dependent on regular immersion in the Grace that comes from sitting at Gurudevi Nirmalananda’s feet.  I had been riding that wave every week, through all the rest of my week.  How would I survive?

Only one way — I had to get consistent in my personal sadhana, my home practices.  I have always had such resistance to this.  As I said above, meditation is not generally peaceful for me.  It was always so easy to find something else to do.  Besides, I didn’t need to meditate because I was riding on the Shakti wave that came from my visit.  

So, as the pain of separation enveloped me, I got up and into my yoga room every day, same time, same routine.  I performed arati (candle flame ceremony); I chanted Shri Guru Gita.  And I joined the Ashram’s online Meditation Club, created by Gurudevi for yogis staying at home during the pandemic.  This routine is now so engrained that my mind cannot talk me out of it.  My mind rarely even tries to talk me out of it now.  This shift is HUGE!  I am so grateful.  Little by little, I am renouncing my resistance.

I recently took Gurudevi’s very first online Shaktipat Retreat.  I was so surprised by how deep it was.  I had an experience that I am still trying to assimilate.  As I’ve described, my mind is much more active when I sit to meditate.  In meditation and chanting, I am finding my body is also very active.  Usually, I see this experience of Kundalini as clearing blockages to my access to Self.  During the Shaktipat Retreat, I had a little inner conversation with Kundalini about this.  She made it clear that She is working within me to give me my Self.  However, She also let me understand that I use active mind and movement as a form of resistance.  I am looking closely at how, where and what I’m resisting.  I am resisting the ever-expanding joy of Self-Realization.   Why would I resist what I long for so dearly?

My resistances are not deliberate, intentional or conscious.  So the only thing I can do is apply mantra and awareness.  Applying awareness to these inner, hidden resistances is like turning over rocks in the garden.  I have to hose out all of the gunk that’s been hiding underneath for lifetimes.  When I sit to meditate, I give Kundalini time to do this work for me. The resulting inner clarity gives me the ability to deal easily with all life challenges.  I see the sacredness of everything, everywhere.  And joy is always easily bubbling up inside me.  I want to live in this awareness of my own Divinity and the Divinity of everything all the time.  And I still have a way to go.  That is why I meditate.

Connecting the Dots

By Carolyn (Karuna) Beaver

Intellect and heart — how can these possibly go together?  Gurudevi poses this question in Enlightenment & Devotion.

It’s a simple equation.  The more yoga I do, the better I feel.  My body doesn’t hurt as much, and I’m nicer to those I live with.  I have more energy, and I want to spend more of that energy helping others.  Yoga poses, meditation and studying with Gurudevi Nirmalananda has impacted my body, mind and heart.  That leads to my devotion, both to the practices and the teacher who gave them to me.

Gurudevi writes, “Devotion is an important part of the process.  You need to put your heart into it.”  The problem, she says, is that in order to feel devotion, “you must be separate from the object of your devotion.”

I am, of course, devoted to my Guru.  I am in awe of Her and how much She has taught and given to me.  Her most important gift was the Shaktipat initiation that awakened me to my own potential.  It lit a fire within that gave me the experience of my deeper essence.  I have put her on a pedestal.  That means that I am devoted to a Self-Realized Being who is separate from me.  Herein lies the problem.  Gurudevi asks in her article, “Are you going to worship the Divine Human or become Divine yourself?” Devotion, she says, is essential in either case.

My answer to that question is both!  I am devoted to my honored Guru, a person separate from me.  And I am devoted to the inward path of discovering my own Divinity.  I am devoted to recognizing myself as a Divine Human.  In the process, my mind is often my worst enemy.  It tears me down and makes me feel small, not Divine at all.  That’s when I know I need to do more yoga. My yoga practices open my mind to the deeper reality within me.  And then I understand that my heart is not separate from my intellect.  In actuality, my heart is the source of my intellect.  There is no disconnect.  They can, and do, go together.  I can be devoted to the Divine Human that is Gurudevi Nirmalananda.  I can be devoted to the Divine Human that is Karuna.  I can use my intellect in the pursuit of knowing and being my own Self.  I can connect all the dots that are me, whether they seem elevated or base.  They all connect to the same thing — my own Divine Essence.

Our Ashram’s Can-Do Attitude

By Shanti (Ellan) Catacchio, interviewed by Priya Kenney

“I am so delighted that the Ashram has the ability to travel virtually,” says Shanti.  “At the March Shaktipat retreat online, Swami Shrutananda told us, ‘Grace beams up to a satellite from Gurudevi and beams right back down into your device.’  I have found that to be true.  It was a blessing to have the Ashram in my home.” 

Our Ashram has a can-do attitude and the ability to make things happen. For four months, physically visiting our Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram has not been an option because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Within days of March 2020 stay-at-home orders, the Ashram responded by coming to us through the Internet.  

“Early in the pandemic, I had an online yoga class with Yogaratna Atmananda.”  Shanti realized, ‘Oh my, we can do this.’  When Gurudevi did a satsang online, I was sure of these capacities.  The Ashram was so quick to respond!  I clearly see the Ashram is more than the buildings in Downingtown.  Gurudevi, Ashram residents and staff are all so willing to do what needs to be done.  And all are capable of stepping into previously unfamiliar technology.  The Ashram is embodied Grace.  Grace is the heart and soul of the Ashram and the services it provides to us seekers.”

Shanti appreciates the many wonderful online programs:  asana (pose) classes, Meditation Club, Japa Club, Enlightenment Studies, Gurudevi’s Year Long Programme and Swami Sunday.  She describes, “These practices have helped me through the pandemic and life in general.  I’m grateful so much is available.  I’m hearing the teachings in a different way.  Even with everything happening in my personal life and the world, I’ve found myself being calm.  I’ve thought, shouldn’t I be more upset?  I wondered whether my calm was delusion. Was I negating reality?  I don’t think so.” 

The Ashram’s steady presence shapes Shanti’s response to civil unrest.  “A Black Lives Matter and Back The Blue/Trump rally was organized in my town,” says Shanti.  “Days before, a lot of anger and fear went back and forth on the town’s Facebook page.  I wondered, could I go?  I went and wasn’t afraid.  It turned out to be very calm.  Recently, Gurudevi talked about the power of the ‘butterfly effect’ in her online Swami Sunday discourse.  I realized, if I maintain my state settled in Self, that’s going to help.” 

Shanti is finishing up Gurudevi’s course on the Pratyabhij~nah.rdayam.  It has shown her how the Ashram carries the enlivened, ancient teachings into our modern world.  “When I first looked at that course, I had doubts,” recounts Shanti. “How was Gurudevi going to maintain our interest for two years and how could I afford the cost?  An Ashram ‘sister’ encouraged me to do it, reassuring me that the money would work out.  It did.  I think about who I was then and who I’ve come to be through the class.  I’m so different. Gurudevi brought the teachings alive.  With each verse of this sacred text, Gurudevi gave us practices that allowed me to integrate these deep teachings. She’s working on me. 

“Twenty years ago, I walked into a yoga class with a sore shoulder.  So I’ve known Gurudevi since she was Rama and I was Ellan.  In 2003, I started Svaroopa® Yoga Teacher Training in La Jolla where Gurudevi (then Rama) first established Master Yoga, her original organization.  When it moved to PA and morphed into the Ashram, I didn’t understand nor could I imagine what I know now.  Everything is about the Ashram.  Then, as now, Gurudevi’s vision is to provide the structure and services to enable seekers know the Self within.” The Ashram’s commitment to supporting Self-Realization led Gurudevi to establish a Vowed Order.  That is an important heart and soul connection for Shanti.  “The Vowed Order is my tribe,” she shares.  “Participating as a Vowed Member enhances and grounds me to my commitment.  I can’t imagine being on this path and not having other people that I can talk to who are doing the same thing.  Grace brought me to what I needed and didn’t even know I wanted.”

It’s Like Learning to Swim

By Satguru Swami Nirmalananda

Trying to understand enlightenment is like trying to learn to swim by reading a book.  To swim, you have to actually get into a body of water.  To get enlightened, you have to place yourself in something bigger than you — except the bigger thing is you.  When you’re enlightened, you’re the water as well as the person paddling around in it.  Unfortunately, you cannot understand enlightenment by thinking about it.  Yet you must think about it, or your mind will lead you in the wrong direction.

I remember learning how to swim.  I was ten years old.  My parents installed a swimming pool in our back yard, specifically so my home would be the popular hangout when I was a teenager.  It worked, though it was the pool that was popular, not me.  Concerned about safety, my parents taught me to swim as well as many of the other teens who came around.

123rf.com

What surprised me was that I floated.  Even if I didn’t move, I floated.  All I had to do was lift my head to breathe.  Then I learned to move my arms and legs in order to move around.  But moving around was less interesting to me than being underwater.  I spent my teenage years underwater as much as possible.  It was quiet in there.  I sensed a deep stillness that went beyond the edges of the pool.  It was an inner stillness. I was submerging myself in a big cocoon of water to get inside — it was a meditation, though I didn’t know it.

For thousands of years, the sages of India have been using water metaphors to explain that you must dive inside.  My Guru said to plunge deeper and deeper within, to discover the Self that you already are.  Then he made it easy for us by giving us Shaktipat, the initiation that awakens the Self to arise within.  Deepening and arising — down and up metaphors. 

There is also the inner expansion, a metaphor using inward and outward, withdrawing and expanding simultaneously.  This experience, the expanding within, is also a dissolving into ecstasy, the bliss of Consciousness.  Expanding into the bliss of Consciousness sounds pretty good, right?

Except that what you think it is — is not what it is.  Every metaphor is limited by the mind’s capacity.  The mind cannot know the self, just like an ant cannot imagine what it is to fly like an eagle.  I quote the yogic sages, including my own Guru, plus I make up my own metaphors, but I’m not trying to help you understand enlightenment.  I’m trying to get you past your mind.  Because, when your mind stops, you experience your own Self.  Patanjali made that promise, one that is easy to fulfill.  That’s the purpose of yoga.

My favorite way of describing enlightenment is that you settle into yourself.  Just like you walk down the steps into a swimming pool, then lower down into the water, you settle inward.  Just like when you bring a big birthday cake into a room of (safely masked) people, then while they honor the birthday person, you sit contentedly on the sidelines.   Just like when you take a cup of tea into the garden or sunroom, and settle down for a few minutes of doing nothing.  You settle into your own Self.  You are already Shiva.  All you do is allow yourself to know.  Or get some help, like I did.  Shaktipat makes the difference!