True Seva

binduBy Bindu Shortt

When I was growing up, we always had a mother cat and some kittens in the house, plenty to share among seven children. I loved to take a cat into bed with me and pet it. I remember exactly the moment when I was scratching a cat under the chin and thought, “Who is giving here and who is receiving?” I had thought I was giving by scratching the cat. But I realized that the cat was giving me something also.

cat-istock

photo credit: petmassage.com

Now I won’t go so far as to call petting a cat seva. It’s more a story about the disappearing of the lines between giving and receiving. Seva does this, while it is also a deeper process. The Sanskrit word translates into “selfless service” or “actions taken without thought of reward or payment.” True seva contributes to your spiritual awakening, through your contributing to the Guru.  True seva makes the lines between giving and receiving disappear.

My first Svaroopa® seva was at my Foundations training. We each pulled tasks out of a hat.  I pulled the job of cleaning out the refrigerator. At first I grumbled. I had seen the stuff left from the prior students, and it wasn’t a pretty sight or smell. But as I put my awareness solely on cleaning the fridge, I was able to land in the moment and be fully present with the task. As I yielded to the simplicity of the doing in the moment, I could feel myself relax and — dare I say it — enjoy the process of doing, as service.

When I decide to do seva I am not thinking about how it will advance me spiritually. In fact, that seems antithetical to what seva really is. I’m not so sure I’m “thinking” at all. I’m not weighing the gains against the effort. Choosing to do seva is simply a matter of “what is.” It is a natural process. The sun shines because that’s what it does. The wind blows, the water flows. Similarly, gardeners garden, editors edit, computer people do computer stuff (can you tell computers are NOT my seva?). Yogis give.

Some years ago I heard Swamiji say, “When you are Self Realized, all you do is give.” At the time I thought that sounded exhausting. I was thinking of it as a one-way street. I was very familiar with that old martyrdom identity of “I just give and give and give.” I depleted myself trying to construct an identity of being a “giving” person.

But now I understand Swamiji’s words differently, through my own experience of seva. There is a joy in doing, in giving, unfettered by a personal agenda. Seva as a practice is part of this mystical Svaroopa® Science.

the-yoga-of-grace-copyI can’t explain how seva works. I only know that by offering seva my capacity expands. It’s like my pot that holds Grace and Truth and Self becomes bigger. I become free-er. Free-er to do more, to give more. The flowing of giving from this free place affects me as it flows out through me, as me. If seva is “selfless service,” then there is no small ‘s’ self-involved. And the “service” is given to Self.

Certainly in our Svaroopa® community it is easy to see that the actions of many are needed to sustain and move our community forward in its evolution. To be one of those included in this process is a privilege. As I immerse myself in my seva — whether it is gardening at the Ashram, emceeing a Swami Sunday, or offering Ayurvedic guidance to staff — I am immersed more deeply in the flow of the Grace of this lineage. So much has been given to me, such amazing abundance of Grace and gifts, that my seva is my sincere expression of my gratitude and giving back. Ironically, seva is another way of expressing my Divinity out into the world.

New Year’s Ritual

It All Melted into a River Of Wax

Priya KenneyBy Priya Kenney

I’m deeply grateful that Swamiji offered the Ashram’s New Year’s ritual for us in our own homes. It was powerful and profound. I want to do it every year. My husband joined me for parts of it. New Year’s morning we lit candles and set our goals, he sat with me while I chanted Jaya Jaya Arati Nityananda.

On New Year’s Eve, what stood out for me was a line from Guru Gita verse 32: “Guru brings an end to all things.” Everything comes to an end.  I really felt that. By placing the tray full of candles by Nityananda’s photo, all of it was dissolving — all the events, large and small, difficult and joyful, scary and not scary. In the end, they were all just events, just experiences. All burned down into the same river of wax. All were the same. As will be the experiences of this year. Now, to remember that.

ny-ritualWe used Crayola candles because that was what we had in the house. The colorful river of Crayola wax reminded me that it’s all a play of consciousness.  There was no fear, no need for things to be a certain way. It is all just a palette of experiences for us to play in as we remember who we are, the Self.

I loved knowing that the Guru, Ashram residents, and svaroopis all over the world were doing this ritual for New Year’s eve and morning . It was so uniting. All borders fell away and everything was one big play of consciousness.

A Tidal Wave of Shakti

sue-ciley-copyBy Shuchi Cilley

Oh my gosh, shaktipat for New Year’s eve — at home, no travel. What an astounding surprise! What a gift! What a celebration — bliss bubbles and beyond. What better way to end one year and start another? We’re already grateful for so much, now I thank Swamiji yet again!

We didn’t read the Shishya email until late, so there was a bit of last minute chasing around to find birthday candles and concoct a suitable tray.  First we chanted Jaya Jaya Arati Nityananda, then chanting Jyota se Jyota to Baba, and then offering our own candles and experiences, followed by chanting Om Namah Shivaaya.

Grace poured in. A veritable explosion, a tidal wave, of Shakti visibly poured from all three photos, immediately saturating everything. It’s the last thing I remember — Guru’s Grace nityanandapropelling us so deeply inside that we were still established there days later. Dare I call it a hangover? (I am not looking for an antidote, hee hee.)

“From the timelessness of her own beingness, the Guru gives with joyful and unbounded generosity.”
— Rukmini Abbruzzi

Again and again and again I bow. Thank you.

Cosmic Maps Point You Home

yogeshwaree up to dateBy Yogeshwari Fountain

Not so long ago, we all depended on paper maps to show us how to get where we wanted to go. If someone asked directions to my yoga studio in my home, I’d draw them a clever diagram. Now, that’s a quaint relic of the past. In less than a decade, technology has given us a smart phone app to take us where we’re going. Travel is so easy that we forget there’s more to where we think we are, or have been or even are heading.

In any moment, and in every moment, you have a deeper dimensionality to you, hidden just beneath the surface of your mind. You focus on the surface level of life, losing the multidimensionality that is your birthright. You need the ancient sages’ maps of Consciousness to “find your way home to your Self, your own Divine Essence.”

“Exploring Yoga’s Multidimensionality,” the theme of our 2017 contemplation articles, “will offer us a variety of maps to explore the inner realms.” In January’s article, Swamiji and Vidyadevi gave a succinct overview of the 36 tattvas. This is a cosmic map that explains the movement of Shiva within Shiva, contracting through increasingly denser levels of energy to become matter. Matter includes you and me and all else that exists. It’s personal. Every cell of you is made of Shiva. There is nowhere you can go to not be Shiva. But it’s hard to see this reality when you get entangled in life’s fluctuations and dramas.

Svaroopa® yoga enabled me to live in my body, not my mind. Then I could begin to fathom the vastness of my own existence. The poses and breathing practices were my launching point, but meditation is what took me into Self. With every step, I have relied on the different cosmic maps to route me in the direction of my innate capacity. The ancient sages knew that “our brains aren’t trained to see anything other than our world, and it will likely take something from another dimension to make us understand.”

yogeshwari-group-photo-copyWhen I contemplate the involution that Consciousness takes, even before becoming my mind and senses, I can feel it expand my perspective far beyond whatever my small “s” self is experiencing in that moment. Currently, I am following the map of yoga’s ten lifestyle practices: the yamas and niyamas (see Swamiji’s articles in 2010-2011). When I’m lost or off course in my life, I reset to the first yama, ahimsa, non-harming, and begin again. It’s a wonderful freedom.

Yoga says you have a mind and body, but you are so much more. In this coming year, these maps of Consciousness will reveal the “more” to each of us. They will point us inward to arrive at the experiential knowing of our own Divinity.

Body, Bliss & Beyond Retreat

sue-ciley-copyBy Shuchi Cilley

It seems like such an indulgence to give yourself a five-day retreat at Lokananda. But it’s not. In fact, I found it to be a vital part of the care and feeding of my Self. Ah, but it’s not my big-S Self that needed it; it’s my small-s self. And while my mind whined a bit about all the logistics, finances and the time away, the deeper part of me was relentlessly pushing to make sure it happened. Not only that it happened, but that I add on an extra night at the beginning, with a Tuesday evening satsang, and the half-day workshop before the program started.

Right from the beginning there it was: Bhairava at work. Arising within you, Bhairava is the force that propels you, compels you, impels you forward, beyond your own understanding to the knowing of your own Self. Bhairava shatters your limitations and sets you free. As Swamiji says, “Go ahead, try to deny it. It will move you anyway.”

So I went with great joy. And, of course, at the feet of the Guru I experienced what I longed for, and more. A recent Daily E-Quote advised, “You need a system, a system that works, a spiritual system that has already produced mystics and saints and continues to do so.” At the retreat, our Svaroopa® Sciences system was on full display in all its scintillating wholeness — so many facets sparkling with, and in, the light of Consciousness — such abundance: blissful asana, chanting and deep meditation with Swamiji, japa, seva, arati ceremonies, darshan, sparkling discourses.

lokananda-swamiHow do I describe the experience of Swamiji demonstrating and teaching us the simultaneous vibrations in OM or immersing us in the poetry of Lalleshwari? Add in vichara, repeatedly shining through the dark spots of my mind, and enclose it all within the Shakti of Lokananda. There’s more — the company of so many deep Svaroopis, new friends and old, flying in from across the continent. I savored the bedtime discussions with my dear roommates, the food at Lokananda and our Ashram lunch with Swamiji. Time and space had no meaning; past, present, and future all together, right now, right here.

Sometimes it’s not til you open your eyes that you know what your meditation has given you. And sometimes it’s not ‘til you get home that you know what a program has given you. In teaching our asana classes, Rukmini beautifully layered in my transformative experience, giving rise to all I have described here. At home again, I found the deep benefits of that experience: the fatigue behind my eyelids — gone; a few less tight spots in my mind; an open heart full of gratitude; and so many other transformations from physically being at the feet of my Guru.

In telling you, I’ve only touched the surface and it’s all still present — and more — when I try to describe it for you now. It was the full experience of the Bliss of Consciousness, playing the edge of individuality and the infinity of Consciousness through the Grace of the Guru.  Guru’s Grace showered without restraint. How could I be so lucky?!

Secrets Revealed: Kurmasana

aanandi-annie-rossBy Aanandi Ross

In my freshman year, my college roommate would do a sort of Kurmasana (Tortoise Pose). She sat on the floor and spread her legs out very wide, then brought her chest and forehead to the floor in front of her. “Wow! Impressive. I want to do that,” I thought. That desire contributed to the ongoing development of my deceptive flexibility.

I practiced her version of Kurmasana over and over. I became able to spread my legs out very far and wide while bringing my chest and forehead to the floor. This pose felt impressive. It filled me with satisfaction, and I did this favorite pose for years. Then, seemingly unrelated, I developed lower back pain, and my neck never recovered from a whiplash accident, causing years of pain and problems.

kurmasana-0065When I finally took the Deceptive Flexibility training, it explained the connection to me and answered a lot of other questions. Deceptive flexibility is a complex condition in both body and mind.  It is a so deeply rooted condition that it can even be difficult to notice. I learned that my extreme angle of Kurmasana was actually overstretching my hip ligaments. Stretching them into unnatural extremes caused my spinal muscles to become very tight. I remember Vidyadevi saying, “Your body thinks your leg is going to fall right off, so your spinal muscles tighten to prevent that from happening, to protect you and hold you all together.”

I thought about what Vidyadevi said. I thought about all my work to impress people, and all the pain it was causing me. Fortunately, my leg did not fall off. But my spinal muscles became very tight and inflexible. I could not distinguish the bone of my sacrum from those hard muscles. No wonder I had so much low back pain and correlating neck pain. I looked flexible, but my appearance was deceptive.

The good news is that deceptive flexibility can be undone. It takes some time, customized poses and consistent yoga practice, but by releasing the spine, your whole skeleton transforms.  Once I found Svaroopa® yoga, I stopped having to frequent the many chiropractors, physical therapists and osteopaths to fix my pain (that always returned). I haven’t needed their services for the past eight years.  If I do tighten up, I know how to release my spine. What a relief! And the money I saved on all those visits could then pay for more Svaroopa® yoga trainings!

But I must add that there is more to deceptive flexibility than this physical aspect. There’s a deeper cause — in the mind. In my mind, I was concerned about what others thought of me. I wanted to be impressive and to wow people. I had a desire for people to like me. And I had the illusion that getting people to like me would make me okay, make me enough, make me great. This is a painful path, in both body and mind.

pigeonThe secrets revealed to me in Deceptive Flexibility training have been life changing, and worth every modified Kurmasana, every tailbone pose and every sacrum pose. I am now genuinely more flexible, my muscles are softer and my mind more content. The poses taught in Deceptive Flexibility feel delicious. They support my body in ways that begin unraveling deep tension. My favorite pose now is Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana (Pigeon Forward Bend) with customized propping. The blankets allow the pose to reach through my hip and into my spine, releasing my sacrum muscles and even my neck.

Life is sweeter with less deception. I am forever grateful for this transformative understanding. Thank you, Swamiji.

One in All

gayatri-2By Gayatri Hess

Though I have been good at hide and seek throughout my years, the Svaroopa® Sciences found me anyway. I am humbled and blessed by this Grace. The experiences of this path, leading to knowing and experiencing your own Self, have fulfilled lifetimes of my yearning. Kashmiri Shaivism, Shaktipat and Swamiji have answered so much of the deep yearning I have had, and continue to have, for God.

I saw more fully the blessing of being on this path when I took 2016’s Year Long Programme, One in All. I received articles to read and contemplate every few weeks. Swamiji’s recorded discourses further deepened my understanding. Regular phone conferences let us share our powerful experiences and deepening insights in answer to questions posed by Swamiji. The process took me ever deeper into Self, with transformation inside and outside.

one-in-all-yogiThen the November weekend retreat baked me. Wow! I really mean baked. The glorious baker, of course, was Swami Nirmalananda, she who has traversed the terrain of this process and is fully established in her own Divinity. I deepened into Self, more clearly seeing Self in myself and Self in All.

This process unfolded through Swamiji’s skillful teaching and her Grace. She masterfully deepened our understanding by using comparison, but not in the typical Western way, comparing to indicate “better than” or separateness. Swamiji reviewed the perspectives of different traditions: Kashmiri Shaivism, Vedanta, Mindfulness and others. She also compared spiritual and religious practices. One may ask, “Why is this important?” In her first article, Swamiji answered, “The differences mean you need to choose your path carefully, because it determines where you will end up.”

Through this process, I developed a greater understanding of Kashmiri Shaivism and my reasons for choosing this path. It supported my certainty of Universal Truth. The saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” was brought to life. As the year progressed, I developed an even more steadfast certainty, devotion, and commitment to the practices of this great tradition. I have a newfound relationship with this path and with my Guru. Grace flows through my experience: the one Self being me, being you, being all.

Besides a greater understanding of my chosen path, I gained an expanded understanding of other meditative systems and practices, including what they offer and the grace flowing through them. The programme led me to see the commonalities of these systems even through their differences. It deepened my reverence for each path. How amazing the universality of Truth! There is a path for all minds and individual uniqueness, so “choose your path carefully” and stick to it!

At our three-day retreat, we practiced the core practices, including asana, chanting and meditation, over and over again, all in the presence of the Guru. Need I say more? The experience was profound, transformative, pure, tiring, joyful, painful, expansive, ecstatic…so inclusive …and in community.  Shakti and Grace continue to fill me each day since my return home. They power me through my daily practice and yogic life.

IMG_20160209_092614 - CopyIn our first article Swamiji wrote, “My heart calls out with the same yearning on your behalf, adding my yearning with yours, so that you can come to know your own Self.” As I write this for my Svaroopa® community, my heart calls out to each of you to experience the deepening that comes through a Year-Long Programme and retreat. My hope is that you will give your Self the gift of a Year-Long Programme and retreat with Swamiji.

I am humbled to have the opportunity to study under such a profound teacher as Swami Nirmalananda, one who demonstrates living based in Self, up close and personal, and who gives opportunities to experience Self over and over again. Through this program, I also experienced the profound depth and Grace of a Shaktipat tradition. I bow in ecstatic reverence and gratitude for the depth of this practice and the One who brings me this realization… to Swamiji, again and again I bow.

OM svaroopa svasvabhava namo nama.h

New Year Ritual

By Swami Nirmalananda

We’re instituting a ritual at the Ashram for the new year — out with the old and in with the new. Having just posted the “Yoga Holy Days” on our website, I am adding celebrations of Western holidays to our Ashram events. Though they are rarely treated as holy-days, the sacred is present in everything, so let’s uncover it!

new-year-ritual-1New Year’s Eve is a night of lights, music, connecting with other people and ushering out the old. It’s supposed to presage your resolutions for the new year as well. Our Ashram resident event includes all of the above, both the night before and the morning of the new year.

New Year’s Eve — review and honor the year

We are beginning with arati (candle flame ceremony) to Nityananda and to Muktananda, as we do every evening. For Nityananda, we chant Jaya Jaya Arati Nityananda, which is on Honored Guru Gita (available in our shop or on iTunes). For Muktananda, we chant Jyota se Jyota, which is available here.

For our New Year’s Eve ritual, we’ll use birthday cake candles with lots of different colors to choose from. Taking turns, we will each describe an event or experience from 2016 that we’d like to honor, lighting a candle for it. Depending on the number of people, you might need to limit the descriptions.

We will place each candle on an arati tray by dripping a drop of wax on the stainless steel tray and then holding the base of the candle in the wax until the candle stays in place. This tray will be placed in front of Nityananda.

Then we’ll chant mantra for 20 minutes or more, followed by meditation. The candles will burn out during the chant & meditation.

At the end, we ring the gong three times and end with OM svaroopa svasvabhava namo nama.h.

New Year’s Morning

new-year-ritual-2Baba always said that what you do on the morning of the new year sets the tone for the whole year. Thus, we are beginning with an abhishek, the formal ritual bath of our Nityananda murti.

As part of that ceremony, we’ll also light personal candles, one per person, to set an intention or plan for the new year. A “Resolution,” you might say. Each one will hold their candle as they state their resolution. Then each uses their candle to do arati, as we all chant to Nityananda and wave our flames together. The candles will be offered to Nityananda, again placing them on the arati tray and letting them burn down on their own.

Please join us in our ritual from your home or with others who share your practices. Click here to send us reports of your experience of this ritual!

OM svaroopa svasvabhava namo nama.h