Tuesday, November 16, 2010

YLTP in Pakistan

Youth Leadership Training Program (YLTP) is an intensive residential program for youth where they not only learn and experience the benefits of breathing techniques, yoga and meditation in eliminating stress and negative emotions but also get trained on how to teach these techniques to the community. YLTP is an empowering program in all senses, and graduates of this program emerge as youth leaders, fully prepared to serve the needs of the community. Bill Herman, one of the senior teachers in the Art of Living Foundation has been conducting YLTP since many years. Below is his experience, in his own words, about conducting YLTP in Pakistan.

What a mystery!  So much to learn from being transported into a modern world simultaneously happening on the other side of the globe, so different, yet in truth much the same as my own world. The problems of these apparently opposed worlds, are the same. We are victims of our conditioning! We have been told something false by others and believe it to be true. Whatever that conditioning may be, it is keeping us from the Truth of the moment. Conditioning acts as a wedge of fear between people.

Truth: We are One!  At the inside, at the core we are no different. There is only One!

Fear:  Because we have been told that this or that category of people are bad, they are different from us, they want something from me, they want to take from me what I hold sacred to myself. They are my enemies, set to destroy me so I must defend against them.

When I have accepted this fear to be true then I look for ways to support this concept that takes me away from the bigger Truth.

This truth of Oneness is a thing of great beauty. To believe that I am the same as the other, that the source of LOVE is the same, knowing myself as One with the other could make my life so easy. It is the ego, the source of fear and conflict, that has created this duality. Ego is the part of me that’s identified with boundaries, differences and limited identity. That ego defends, polarizes, complicates, separates me from the other. The infinite Self within that is Love, my deepest Self, seems too simple to accept as Truth. I have chosen to “Doubt the Positive” a normal tendency of the mind, and “Cling to the Negative,” tendency of the memory.

Truth:  Responsibility brings Freedom. Taking action, choosing to take responsibility creates the opportunity to succeed, to move forward in achieving what needs to be done. When I give 100% and take action I cannot regret, because I’ve given my best. Then I’m free to make choices that increase my abilities and if I choose to not take responsibility for what I want, it definitely will not happen and I will stay the same.

Fear:  If I take action there is a risk of failing. I may look like a fool. Others will judge me. It is always fearful to take a risk and venture into new territory. Taking responsibility is an investment and investing creates the risk of losing something. It’s a courageous act because it’s moving out of my comfort zone into the unknown.

This was easy to see in a culture which on the surface seems to have a different set of problems, which appears so different than my own. To blame or see that culture as different from mine is easy, but when I look deeper I see the same thing happening in my own world. In America we live in a culture of violence, a culture of exploitation, objectification, and greed. Our American conditioning is deep. It is focused on, “me, me, what about me?” The “Me generation” which began many years ago, has remained. We believe in our fears and our own needs first, and this keeps us small. Our education system has been lazy and gone into a state of denial about it’s own inadequacies. It has lost relevancy to the youth of America, and when you are no longer relevant, youth lose interest and that is why our schools are failing so badly.

Pakistan has a great need of education and so does the United States. The literacy rate in Pakistan is about 55%, one of the lowest in the world. The United States has about 32 million illiterate people. About 50% of youth do not finish high school in the major cities of the USA.  Education is the key. We need to give our young people the ability to make better choices and give them the awareness how manage their minds, their emotions and their stress in a healthy way. To live the best lives they can.

When we taught the human values points: responsibility, respect, commitment, when we empowered the young rural participants of this first Pakistan YLTP to see how to make better choices and take the responsibility to bring awareness to their communities, they got it. They understood the need of the day. In experiencing the peace, relaxation and goodness in their own hearts after doing the breathing exercises on YLTP, they got it. They also wondered where is this coming from and at times they were afraid. When something so different, so good comes along we get scared. This is our natural tendency. But by the end of the week they couldn’t deny the Love, and the fact that it was coming from within their own hearts, not from anywhere else. This was beautiful to see and to be a part of. When we break boundaries in ourselves or in others, we can feel the expansiveness of freedom in a real way. As the passionate cry of a Rumi poem goes, “why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open!”

The Pakistan Leadership Training experience showed me the beauty, the innocence, the openness and freshness of young people, of humanity. It showed me an inbuilt readiness to grow when something so relevant is presented to inherently intelligent, open-minded young adults. I got to witness first hand the conditioning, the small- minded protectiveness of a cocoon break down over the period of 8 days, and the expansion of freedom awaken in the minds of 40 Pakistani youth. I came back to my hometown Chicago and two days later we began a new program with 260 students in a Chicago high school and I clearly recognized the same longing in the faces of American youth. This longing is not for Pakistani freedom or American freedom. It is  Universal Freedom and ALL young people around the world are longing for this.   

What did YLTP do in Pakistan? It provided the participants the freedom to break out of conditioning and allow clarity of vision and personal power to explode from within. It allowed the young participants to make choices to determine their own direction in life and be of use to people in need in their own villages, in their own country. To offer something of value to their world. The power of the breath and the power of knowledge allow this transformation from “what about me” to “how can I serve others.” How can we afford not to spark this in our young people?

-- Bill Herman

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Interview with Sangeeta Jani, Metuchen (NJ)

Sangeeta Jani, one of the most senior teachers in the Art of Living Foundation, visited New Jersey to conduct a DSN course. Volunteers Maya and Anvesh took the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her nineteen years of teaching experience, traveling around the world teaching various Art of Living programs, and growing on the spiritual path. Below is the interview.

Q: As a teacher, what are some challenges you face?
Sangeeta Jani: I don’t see anything as a challenge. I see it all as a happening. So whatever is happening in the current moment, I feel, and I have seen this happen, it is leading to something bigger, it is leading to something else. So something that may appear as an obstacle right now, is not really an obstacle. It is just something that is pushing you towards something bigger, towards a bigger plan. I have learned that and that has made it very smooth and everything flows very easily.

Q: What do you enjoy about being a teacher?
Sangeeta Jani at Art of Living center, Metuchen, NJ
 Sangeeta Jani: I just enjoy teaching, Because when I teach, first and foremost I feel so grateful that I have an opportunity to be an instrument to the Divine and do some work to make a difference. I feel I may have spent so many lifetimes just coming and going, coming and going,  taking from this planet. This lifetime also I may have done a lot of that but, you know, when I have an opportunity to give, I feel so grateful, and so indebted to be able to give to the world. I feel blessed to be chosen to do something like this, to have the ability to do something like this.

To read the rest of the interview, visit Interview with Sangeeta Jani.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Deepening Roots Workshop

In the recent years, people have started paying greater attention to their food habits and nutrition sources. Where is the food produced? Where are the fruits and vegetables grown? Is it imported from abroad? Are organic fertilizers and pesticides used? And many more such questions.

As obvious as the fact it, it needs restating. The food we eat becomes us. A diet that is comprised of lightly cooked vegetables, fresh fruits, nuts and seeds will result in healthier bodies and clearer minds as opposed to one that is laden with processed foods, canned/frozen vegetables and fruits, and junk food. Maybe this is common sense but alas, not so commonly found!

The Deepening Roots Program originally began as a summer internship at the International Art of Living Center (Canada) but now it also includes a 2-day workshop that teaches the concepts and practices of healthy food and nutrition, organic gardening, sprouting and cooking. Atlanta was fortunate to host a Deepening Roots Workshop this last weekend. It is truly a program that everyone should attend. Two days may not seem like much time but I feel that most participants, if not all, walked away from the workshop feeling more informed and aware about responsible food choices, health and nutrition. On both days, the instructors Andrew and Julia guided the participants into preparing delicious raw food. Chocolate Banana Smoothie, Sunflower Seed Nut Pate and Raw Mango Pie were some of the wonderful items that featured on the menu.

On Day 2, the participants planted kale, blackberry, cilantro and other saplings at the back of the Art of Living Atlanta Center.

Growing and cooking your own food is a wonderful experience. Everyone should get an opportunity to know what it feels like. There is such a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction that accompanies these projects. Most home cooks and avid gardeners probably know exactly what I am talking about. As a newbie gardener and a cooking/baking enthusiast, I can stand behind my words totally!

The next 2-day workshop will be conducted on November 13 and 14 in Knoxville. Registration link can be found here.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Diwali: Celebrating the Light of Wisdom

At this time of the year people around the world are getting ready to celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights. One of the biggest festivals of the East, Diwali symbolizes the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance.

For an oil lamp to burn, the wick has to be partially immersed in the oil. If the wick is completely drowned in oil, it cannot bring light. Life is like the wick of the lamp, you have to be in the world and yet remain untouched by it. If you are drowned in the materialism of the world, you cannot bring joy and knowledge in your life. By being in the world, yet not drowning in the worldly aspect of it, we can be the light of joy and knowledge. 

To read the entire article, please visit Diwali: Celebrating the Light of Wisdom, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's latest article in The Huffington Post.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Meeting Mikey

Michael Fischman, the President of Art of Living Foundation USA, has written a book titled 'Stumbling Into Infinity' where he shares his life story and various experiences with spirituality, meditation, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the Art of Living Foundation. The book is wonderfully written, very sincere and honest, yet heart-warming and uplifting. Mikey, as he is affectionately called, is an excellent story teller and he writes with candor and good humor.

I first met Mikey in September 2004. I had registered for my first Art of Silence Course and he was conducting it. I had heard that he was a senior instructor and a long-time practitioner of meditation. Also he had had the good fortune of meeting Sri Sri and spending much time with him in the early days of the Art of Living Foundation. Last but not the least, I had heard that he had a fantastic sense of humor.

I enjoyed the course thoroughly and Mikey had much to do with it, I suppose. I went on to sign up for an Art of Meditation Course right afterward. He initiated me into the Sahaj Samadhi meditation technique, so simple and effortless and yet so powerful. I loved the way he incorporated science into his explanation of meditation and the various levels of consciousness. Mikey's love for meditation came through his teaching clearly and it inspired me to meditate regularly. I ended up sitting in on more Meditation courses with him, and loved all of them. He demystified meditation and drove home the fact, in his charming and humorous way, that meditation was the simplest and paradoxically, the most meaningful action one could ever do.

There are so many beautiful programs offered by the Art of Living Foundation. But I have to admit that the Art of Meditation Course is one of the programs I really adore. To this day, it amazes me how a skill as precious as meditation is taught in a matter of hours. Learning to meditate is a blessing and I count myself incredibly lucky to have received it. To Mikey, I owe this immense enthusiasm and love for meditation.

One course after another, and soon after I found myself on a Teachers Training Course - Phase 1. Mikey was our friend, philosopher and guide for those two weeks. Patiently he led us through the days, sharing his knowledge and experiences, helping us get over our supposed boundaries and pain points, rejoicing in our laughter and happiness. Over the years, Mikey has trained hundreds of teachers in the Art of Living Foundation.

As I read the book, I was touched by how honest Mikey was about his struggles and challenges on the spiritual path. He has laid bare his personality with all its idiosyncrasies and inconsistencies. It is this achingly transparent narrative that draws readers into Mikey's life and world with all its mishaps and happy adventures. Absolutely recommended reading! 

Watch an introductory video to the book here.

Order a copy of 'Stumbling Into Infinity.'

Sunday, October 24, 2010

It all begins with...


A few weeks back, I woke up to a gorgeous summer morning. Finished my yoga, Kriya and meditation, and left for work. It was one of those magical mornings when everything seemed just perfect. My meditation was peaceful and I felt a deep sense of rest and calm inside. As I was driving to work, such happiness soared inside of me. The sheer joie de vivre, simply translated as the 'joy of living' bubbled up in my heart. Soon after, my mind began its regular litany of doubt and scolding. "What are you so happy about? Don't you remember how much needs to be done? You need to answer that email to your adviser. The prospectus draft needs to be sent out. And what about that article you were supposed to finish? The kitchen is such a mess. And that bathroom really needs to be cleaned." And so on it went on.

This is a familiar cycle. Whenever I experience this wonderful happiness - a feeling that truly comes out of nowhere really - my mind begins to question it. It is almost as if I need a legitimate reason to be happy or else my mind will not be satisfied.

This time, I thought about it a little more. I could not discern any source for this wonderful feeling; it really came out of nowhere. There are so many moments in life when we experience this beautiful joy and we know not where it comes from. Yet it is a powerful emotion (if that's what you want to call it). Out of happiness is born creativity, compassion, generosity, beauty. We often believe that happiness lies at the end of something. After completing a successful project, after acquiring a job, at the completion of an assignment, at the culmination of a responsibility and so on. What we typically experience at the end of these events - hmmm, I would probably call it relief, maybe? But joy and happiness are those lovely emotions that really don't owe their existence to any event or happening. They just are. 

So the next time, you experience that sheer joie de vivre, don't let your mind poke holes in it. Enjoy it, fly with it, share it freely... and see what miracles spring out of it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Life: A Pure Celebration of Joy and Gratitude

Posting on behalf of Asha Mulchan (Hoschton, GA, USA) (amulchan@bellsouth.net)

I have read hundreds of books, listened to hundreds of lectures, and visited many religious and spiritual places in my search for my personal spiritual path. But I've discovered that that intellectual knowledge is not enough. I think many spiritual teachings remain an intellectual exercise, concepts, words - until one has an internal experience which links the knowledge to the deepest level of his heart. Little by little, I am able to go beyond intellect and mind to experiential knowledge through Sudarshan Kriya.

Through the simple process of purging the toxins of negative emotions, physical toxins, and the toxins from life stress, I feel myself move gradually from disharmony to harmony and synchronicity of mind, heart, body and spirit. Even in those moments when I feel helpless and out of control, there is still a quiet space inside which reminds me that everything is fine and that life is unfolding as it should. It is an amazing thing to experience such calmness in the midst of disharmony and chaos. I think that once we’ve moved from the head space to the heart, we know with absolute certainty that we are greater than the sum total of our emotions and senses. From this state, we can experience the blossoming of wisdom, the outpouring of divine love, the manifestation of love and peace in relationships, with nature, and with the world around, and life becomes a pure celebration of joy and gratitude. I have been abundantly blessed with this unfolding experience since meeting Guruji in 1998 and doing Sudarshan Kriya and other spiritual practices regularly.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Guitar and Meditation

I'm a month into my Psychiatry rotation and I've had the great pleasure of meeting many wonderful kids. One, in particular, I’ll always remember. One day, he said to me:

“I’ll give you a guitar lesson if you teach me how to meditate again today.”

That’s probably not a line out of a typical psychotherapy session. Perhaps it was typical for us since I am a complete novice when it comes to psychotherapy. It really does take time to know what to say to someone without knowing the person. This particular kiddo was tough because he had layers upon layers of anxiety and trauma. So many layers that he could not function in society and tried to end his life many times. This boy had been on medication for nearly two weeks and the meds definitely helped stabilize his mood: he no longer wished to end his life. After a few sessions with him, I wasn’t sure what I could do to be of further help. We had talked at length, established rapport, but it felt like a dead end.

“Let’s try something different. Let’s meditate together,” I offered. We observed our breath and then I guided him through a 10-minute meditation, something he had never done before. As the next patient came in right after we finished, I didn’t get a chance to speak with him about his experience, but I sensed he appreciated it.

The next day he told me he wanted to play a song for me on his guitar, something he had been practicing since our last session together. He proceeded to play a brilliant Spanish classic and my jaw dropped. He was alive. This was his spirit playing. We then meditated again, upon his request, and this time we had a few minutes to reflect. He said that he had never experienced so much peace and so little anxiety.

Later that day, for the first time, he played his guitar for all the kids on the entire hospital ward and smiled so much that I thought he might injure his face. It was as if he suddenly became this uncontainable ball of light. His radiance, in turn, opened up other children on the unit that day. Some started to sing for no reason, some started to draw, some kids who had held grudges started to talk to one another. A different form of psychotherapy was at work.

He inspired me to learn guitar, I inspired him to learn meditation. Neither of us saw this coming.

In his new book “Life at 100%”, Guruji says that, “true success is smiling even when everything falls apart.” It's easy to smile when things are going our way. But, where does our inner peace and happiness go when life becomes more challenging? And, how often do we help people to smile in our own life? In those moments of smiling, my little hero forgot about his thoughts; he forgot about his broken life. He was free, at least for a little while, of his anxiety and trauma – emotions that had once shackled him to his room and kept him fearful of people. Now he was smiling and had ignited a smile on the faces of all the kids around him.

This child gave me so many gifts that day - so many experiences. Looking for ways to brighten someone's day and actually following through is sacred. This is The Art of Living. It's helping to bring people to their capacity. What is it that we can offer people around us and what is it that we can learn from them? As Guruji says so sweetly, it's really asking yourself these two questions every moment of your life… how much love have you spread?…what knowledge have you gained?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Coming back Home

I was born and raised in Bombay. Of course, the name of the city has now been changed to Mumbai but for me (and for many others in my generation too,  I am sure), it will be Bombay. The city of memories, family, school and college, friends and fun.

I had a liberal upbringing. My parents are possibly two of the most generous and open-minded individuals I have ever met. They placed no restrictions whatsoever on either of us (I have a younger sister). We got pretty much everything we asked for. Except of course, there was this one occasion when I was 7 years old and had accompanied my Dad to the grocery store. I asked him if we could get a TV for the house. Well, this was in the early 80s when TVs were still considered a luxury. So you can possibly guess his response. A firm and gentle NO.

My sister and I were good students. We learned classical music and dance, performed at various events, and were fairly good daughters, if you discount the occasional tantrum, fuss or outburst. As I completed high school and joined junior college (in India, you join college at age 16), I found a great bunch of friends. We shared a common love for music, films, art and humor. Boring college lectures, surprise birthday parties, New Year celebrations, art films and rock music, walks along the beach, night-long conversations on philosophy and life, dreams and ambitions - these were the highlights of my junior college years. Soon after, I joined an engineering college. New friends, bigger parties, overnight treks... and life went on. Then I graduated from college and started working as a software developer. Everything continued as before. I went out with friends, watched one film after another, read many books, indulged in the quintessential existential brooding that seemed to be a hallmark of people my age.

It was all wonderful and exciting and adventurous and yet at the age of 25, I felt like I had come to a full stop. Until then, life had been a series of events, people, places and experiences for me but suddenly it seemed that there had to be a deeper idea to it. Certain incidents in the past couple of years made me wonder if I really knew myself. I felt at conflict with my own self and with certain others in my life. I found myself thinking - Is there any purpose to all this? Who am I? Is there a meaning to these incidents and situations and people?

Suffices to say that the Art of Living Course came at the right time to me. I attended an Art of Living Course, then a couple of Art of Silence Courses, and then the Art of Meditation Course. A year after my first course, I met Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of Art of Living Foundation. Even before I met him, I had seen many videos of his. To me, he always came across as someone familiar, someone who I had known since a very long time. And when I finally met him, it felt like a true homecoming.

I had had no experience with Gurus or spiritual masters while growing up. Yet, it was a matter of few months before I came to see Sri Sri as my personal Guru. There was zero deliberation or thinking involved. It's interesting how some of the major decisions in my life were not decisions at all; they just came to be in the most natural way possible. Some things you simply know without having even a single thought.

I conduct the Youth Empowerment Seminar (YES!) for teenagers, and on one course, I remember talking about Sri Sri to the young participants. I said, "To me, Sri Sri or Guruji is a person who makes me feel like I can do anything. In his presence, I feel strong, complete, powerful. I feel like there is no limit to what I can achieve and accomplish. When I am around him, all my doubts and concerns disappear."

There is so much more I can say about Guruji and how he has truly brought out the best in me on so many levels. Intellectual maturity, a broader sense of perspective about the self and the world, a desire to learn and share... and most of all, a sense of abundance and fullness. Today, I feel like I lack nothing and I want nothing. Moment to moment, my life is full and complete. To Guruji, I owe this precious realization and many many others.

Monday, September 20, 2010


"Mehnat karke samajhna jo hain, buddhimani nahin hain. Kyon ki, mehnat karke jo samajhte ho, woh tumhaara anubhav nahin hain. Sahajta se jo samajh lete ho, woh tumhaara anubhav hain."

Translated as,
"To put effort to understand (something) is not intelligent. Because, that which you understand with effort is not your experience. What you understand simply and easily, that is your experience."

-- Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Hrishikesh, India, March 2000

Over the years, I have heard many talks by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, fondly and respectfully addressed as Guruji by so many of us in the Art of Living Foundation. Each talk is a treasure trove of knowledge, ideas, wonderful realizations and valuable insights. Guruji is one who speaks about the complexities of the mind, the meaning of emotions, the depth of the Universe and the infinite potential of the Self in the most simple of words and expressions. As much as we complicate ideas and questions in our head, Guruji unravels these confused thoughts, making perfect sense of each question, and giving the most fitting answer.

Yet, sometimes, I end up turning his words over and over in my mind. For whatever reason, they don't resonate with me totally. And then it happens a few weeks later, maybe a few months later or a few years even. Something clicks and his words make perfect sense. I liken Guruji's words to seeds; each one lodges securely in the deep recesses of the mind, and when the time is right, sprouts into the most spectacular flower ever. That is, in my opinion, the perfect blossoming of knowledge, at the right time and occasion, when it makes the most sense and is the most relevant.

So, as Guruji mentions, absolutely zero effort is necessary. Everything unravels in its own time, at its own pace. All we need to do is let the process go on. Isn't this so wonderful?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Lost and Found

“We don’t breathe to live, we breathe to enliven,” the yoga instructor whispered softly as she walked by my mat.

Do we have to philosophize at this moment? Can't you see I'm crumpled over attempting a seated forward bend?!

That I identified with this mental chit-chat in that moment was nothing new. I completely missed the infinite depth of the pose itself, the present moment. I wasn’t even aware of the stretch.

I’ve been practicing the Sudarshan Kriya and Sahaj Samadhi meditation for a while and the level of mental clarity that has arisen is astounding. However, just as at the yoga studio, there are still moments throughout the day that I identify with my mental chatter, my reaction to the present moment, resisting what is.

What's been most noticeable, however, has been how these practices bring into full perspective many of the negative tendencies that I have accumulated over time. The practices bring the magnifying glass to new locations in the mind each day, focusing that ray of light into a beam which burns the tendency to a crisp. What negative mental tendency shall I burn today? I don't actually ask myself that, it just happens.

But, there are definitely still those moments in which I feel like a complete space cadet and not present. For example, a few weeks ago, I was driving home in rush hour from a long day at the hospital with my car windows down and the A/C broken. It was 95 degrees out, I was wearing a long sleeve shirt and sweating, and my attention was drifting towards all the interesting people on the sidewalk who were walking, running, skateboarding, or talking, all the while vaguely aware that there was a mental script running about the events of the day at the hospital and about these people I was observing.

I was also on the cell phone, apparently.

What a joke I thought as I hung up. Here I am always talking about how I've become so focused and how important it is to give 100% to the present moment. I felt more like a pie chart with my attention divided up into 100 different slices.

I must also admit that there have been many times recently where I feel like my mind is lost in the world. It's as if my thoughts and desires are like little bullets of glue which attach themselves to people, objects, and situations – to the world. Dispassion? It's getting there...

Out of these moments of entanglement and confusion, however, has arisen a sneaky new awareness. My concepts about the types of experiences I ought to be having and the experiences that are best for me are in jeopardy now. Concepts of right and wrong are being crushed left and right by blocks of awareness falling from the sky. Sound painful? Yes, but growing pains are always something to look forward to, something from which we become bigger and more powerful. Running in either direction, hiding from this scary new awareness, I still sometimes feel lost in the transition from one state of mind to another, and unsure about what is happening.

But, the amazing thing though is that you have to lose yourself to find yourself. You have to have been lost at some point to know you’re going in the right direction. What a strange game life is. If we are owned and held captive by our mental tendencies, our desires or thoughts, then we’re not living in the present moment. That is the only place where we can find ourselves.

I’m so grateful for these moments of confusion and frustration. I’m so grateful to Sri Sri for giving me the gift of the Sudarshan Kriya and Sahaj Samadhi meditation, which have helped accelerate my awareness - my perception, observation, and expression - of how to deal with the entangling and confusing aspects of life. On some level, I have always heard these words, but the many moments of confusion and entanglement have raised the volume: Hey Rob, guess what? I’m doing this to help you step out of your story, out of your personal dilemma! I’m intensifying these feelings for you so that you don’t look to the world to make you happy!

I promise you I’m not schizophrenic.

Well, to the average person I’d seem crazy. But, the good news is that there is relief in recognizing that nothing outside of yourself can give you lasting and complete happiness, as Sri Sri often remarks. By seeing of all this drama pass, like a cloud, a part of yourself which was unconscious, is now conscious. That's the power of Sudarshan Kriya and Sahaj Samadhi meditation.

Friday, September 3, 2010

An experience is worth ten thousand words... or more.

A picture is worth a thousand words. But an experience... maybe more, many more words.

I have been practising Sudarshan Kriya and meditation for more than six years now, and yet the efficacy of these techniques never fails to amaze me. There is a good reason why we refer to these techniques as "spiritual practices," meaning they are not theories or hypotheses waiting to be proved. Instead, they are tried and tested methods that have been used since centuries to relax the mind, refresh the system and dive to the source of thought.

Very often, the human mind chooses quantity over quality. So it baffles us when we hear that twenty minutes of meditation can be more restful than eight hours of sleep. The math does not match up! Well, it needs to be experienced. It has happened to me on multiple occasions that I wake up after 7-8 hours of sleep, feeling hardly rested. My limbs feel sore and heavy, and I cannot shake off the dullness in my mind. On such mornings, it is tempting to fool the mind into thinking that lying in bed for those five extra minutes will make all the difference. Does not work, really. But spending an hour on yoga, Sudarshan Kriya and meditation will most certainly help. One such morning, I just about managed to make myself sit for my daily practice. And an hour later, I could hardly believe how different I felt. The body felt much lighter and my legs had lost their soreness. The mind felt calm and completely relaxed. The draining fatigue of the night before had been replaced with an incredible sense of energy and clarity.

I remember listening to a talk by Sri Sri where he explains that the more subtle an object/entity is, the tougher it is to describe. This, in my opinion, perfectly describes the experience of Sudarshan Kriya and meditation. But I have tried to do that... and you can read it in the lines above! Or you can go and experience it yourself because my words can barely convey an iota of the beauty and magic of these spiritual practices.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Guru Purnima 2010

The Art of Living Guru Purnima celebrations took place in Hartford, CT this year. Thousands of people gathered for a wonderful week of music and meditation, silence and celebration, fun and food and dancing and so much more. July 25 was Guru Purnima, a day that holds special significance for the spiritual seeker.

In Sri Sri's words,
"Among the 12-13 full moons in a year the Vaishakha full moon is dedicated to his (Buddha's) birth and enlightenment, Jyeshtha full moon to mother earth and the Aashadha full moon is dedicated to the memory of masters. This is Guru-Purnima. It is the day when the disciple wakes up in his fullness and in the wakefulness he can’t be but grateful. This gratitude is not of Dwaita (you and me), but of Advaita. It is not a river moving from somewhere to somewhere, but is the ocean moving within itself. So, gratefulness on Guru-Purnima symbolizes that fullness.

The purpose of the Guru Purnima celebration is to turn back and review and see in this last one year how much one has progressed in life. For a seeker, Guru Purnima is a day of significance, is a day of New Year. It is the day to review one’s progress on the spiritual path and renew one’s determination and focus on the goal, and to resolve what one wants to do in the coming year. As the full moon rises and sets, tears of gratitude arise and repose into the vastness of one’s own self.”

For me, Guru Purnima is an occasion to meet the global Art of Living Family. This year, people came from Argentina, Brazil, Suriname and Japan, among other places! It is like a family gathering where you meet distant cousins after months (maybe even years!) and after a moment of laughter and hugs, they don't seem like distant cousins any more - just close friends! It is such a festive atmosphere that one naturally feels so uplifted and celebratory. The Satsangs are magnificent with great music, spirited dancing, wonderful Q & A sessions with Sri Sri and general merriment.

To me, it always seems that the spirit of Guru Purnima can hardly be contained by the hotel/convention center any more, and the entire city comes to be imbued with this wonderful energy. Festivities go on late into the night, and it is not uncommon to hear the sounds of soulful bhajans coming from the hotel rooms long after the evening Satsang has ended.

Guru Purnima 2011 will be bigger, for sure. It will be hosted by another city, in another hotel or convention center. There may be more programs, more locations. But what will remain at the core of every Guru Purnima celebration, as it always has been, is Guruji. As he moves through crowds of thousands, blessing and comforting every person in the audience, bestowing his knowledge and wisdom on one and all, he teaches us in his own way how beautiful it is to walk the spiritual path and live the knowledge, every breath and every moment.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

An airplane conversation - it's not romantic, but it is juicy

Scenario: Saturday 6 a.m. Boston. January, 2005. Cold.

It’ll be nice to have a week off from work and to get some sun.

That was the phrase that played through my mind as I was about to head down to Florida to catch a cruise.

It was just another day though, really. I mean, I was still taking my thoughts with me, except it was now to a different location. If you asked me on a cruise whether I liked my job, what my chances of getting into medical school were, I would have still been a little depressed in thinking about these questions. I remember thinking to myself:

“Why do I feel like I’m having a mid-life crisis at 24!? I’m too young for this!”

I had graduated college that previous May and, at that time, I had finished up my senior year in which I was able to reflect a lot about life. I was writing a lot, reading a lot, and I suppose just being much more introspective. The Buddhism courses I took were phenomenal. For the first time, I started to view my mind not just as something that is fixed in terms of its tendencies, but as something more flexible and plastic. Being mindful of my thoughts was perhaps the toughest task I had ever attempted in my life. But, it was so incredible. I love to learn and so watching these thoughts offered me a chance to learn on a moment to moment basis what was really happening inside.

I remember the professor asking us: “How often do we feel like we are held captive by emotions?” I wanted to raise my hand, but I first looked around and saw that everyone else was looking around as well with their hands down. “It takes awareness to realize that we are not in control of our emotions.” This was a big realization for me in college.

And so since graduating, I had sort of fallen out of practice of reflecting on how things were going. How am I living my life right now? What are my interactions like with people? What am I learning about life on a daily basis? Starting work in Boston as a research assistant at a hospital after graduation, I found that I had not been creating that same space for myself to investigate my emotions..

Nevertheless, that early frigid Saturday morning, I boarded the plane, convincing myself that I would have a good time. I sat down and did what I always liked to do – keep myself busy. I needed something to intellectually conquer.

The man next to me also pulled out a book. The words “The Supreme Yoga” caught my eye. Then the internal dialogue began...yeah, that one yoga class I took at Boston Sports Club was pretty amazing. That’s pretty cool he’s reading a book about yoga.

So, we started to talk.

I was telling him how interested I was in Neuroscience and applying modern scientific methods to understanding techniques like yoga, meditation, and breathing, but didn’t yet have much experience with these techniques themselves. While talking to him though, I felt so uncomfortable. I was sputtering all of these words and I was in such a state of chaos! Here I was inquiring into the nature of these techniques and wishing to validate them, but yet I had no experience of them and my mind was in a state which was the exact opposite of what these techniques attempted to accomplish! What irony!

I had so much guilt and regret about past events in my life and so much anxiety and fear about the future, too. I was literally a pendulum swaying back and forth, with my mind living either in the past or the future.

The peace behind his words was so new to me. Everyone around me at work was so stressed out that it just became normal to be like that.

I wanted whatever it was that he had. I wanted that peace. I wanted his disposition.

He wrote down for me a few things on a small piece of paper which I promised to myself I wouldn’t lose. It had 3 phrases on it in neatly printed in black ink: “Art of Living course, Sudarshan Kriya, Yoga Vasistha.”

He then closed his eyes to meditate.

I couldn’t help but watch him. What was he doing? What is meditation? Was he really sleeping? Did he just close his eyes so he wouldn’t have to talk to me?

As we parted ways in Florida, I thanked him and told him I’d email him after I took the course.

On the cruise, that whole week, all I could think about was this course and my interactions with him. What timing! I had been looking for something like this!

Of course, the cruise had no internet and so the second I got back to Boston, I signed up for the course which happened to be one week later down the street at MIT. The rest is history. I emailed my friend on the plane, an Art of Living teacher from New York City, and eventually met up with him many times thereafter during courses and satsangs.

I now write this, a few years later, as an Art of Living teacher. The intervening years, the transformation contained therein, is the subject of another post. All I’ll leave you with for now is that the phrase ‘the state of your mind determines the quality of your life’ is infinitely deep because the process of investigating the mind and understanding one’s true nature is a journey that is ongoing. The more you investigate the nature of the mind, the more transformation that is possible. The more this becomes a priority, the faster the transformation!

A personal account of the Silver Jubilee, AoL’s 25th year anniversary

You know how there are those incredible moments in life that we wish we could capture and keep with us forever? How many times have you wanted to write about these moments or experiences and were at a loss for words? Every time you sat down to write about it, the words just didn’t capture the essence. And then it’s the old feeling of what’s the point in even writing about it anyway. It’s just an experience. I can’t recreate the experience for myself or for anyone else.

Well, years later, I’m sitting down again in an attempt to share one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. Part of the reason why I haven’t written about it in so long is because I’m still digesting it. It was a unique experience – one that showed me another aspect of life that I didn’t know existed.

Peace. Happiness. Without reason.

In February of 2006, I took a trip to India to attend a 2.5 million person meditation. This event was part of the Art of Living’s 25th year Anniversary.

I’m so glad I went. I laugh when I think about what almost prevented me from going. Studying for the MCAT exam. I had to honest with myself, which was tough for me to do at the time. I asked myself a question which I had known the answer to all along. When I am about to die, what will I remember…an extra week of MCAT studying? Or, this trip to India? Well, that was easy now wasn’t it. It’s amazing how tunnel-visioned I was at the time, but I suppose that’s what stress does – making it a little tougher to see all perspectives in a situation in the moment.

Let me describe to you the beautiful scenery of the Ashram. First imagine a tropical paradise, including palm trees, monkeys imitating your movements from tree canopies, an elephant roaming to and fro, a gentle cool breeze punctuated by a feeling of the sun’s strength, villagers cutting the tops off of coconuts for tourists to enjoy a nice a cool refreshing drink, mangos, papayas, pineapples, exotic lizards, thousands of people from over 144 countries smiling at you as you pass them by, gardens exuding an overwhelming fragrance, and enchanting, hand cut rock statues.

I should say a bit more about why I went to India in the first place in case this wasn’t clear. The Art of Living Foundation, an organization I joined about 5 years ago, had its 25th year anniversary celebration, culminating in a 2.5 million person “One World Family Silver Jubilee” event at Jakkur Air Field in Bangalore, India. This event lasted 3 days and included speeches from many dignitaries from across the world including Presidents, foreign dignitaries, and saints, among others. Many topics were addressed, all of which fell under the broad topic of human values & ethics.

The final day of the event culminated in a 2.5 million person Sudarshan Kriya and meditation. The Sudarshan Kriya is a breathing technique developed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to wash away stress and negative emotions and to give the mind a much needed rest.

For one who has not experienced this technique, it’s hard to describe. Describing it comes from the level of the mind and the technique itself transcends the mind. These techniques are great to practice at home individually, but can you imagine the collective power of 2.5 million people doing this practice together? What about the effect on the global consciousness? I swear we even changed the global wind currents with all the breathing that we did.

At the event, people from Israel, Palestine, America, Iraq, India, Pakistan, China, and Tibet to name just a few of the numerous countries represented were all celebrating and dancing together! Where else on earth could you find this? What other type of event could bring so much bliss? It truly did feel like a one world family. Everyone put aside their identification’s and remembered that life is about celebration, not violence. It is no wonder that Sri Sri has been nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize on multiple occasions.

Just a word concerning the logistics of the event – can you imagine putting together an event of this magnitude? As I had previously mentioned, over 2.5 million attended this event, however, only 10,000 of this 2.5 million stayed at the Bangalore Ashram. This ashram was only equipped to hold 3,000. Yet, it all seemed to just magically work out. Perhaps the biggest miracle of all was that only a few people of the 10,000 got sick. Can you imagine how many buses were needed to transport 10,000 people from the ashram to Jakkur for the Silver Jubilee three day celebration? Can you imagine the amount of vegetables that needed to be cut and scraped? Can you imagine all the traffic at Jakkur? Can you imagine sifting through millions to find a seat at the Silver Jubilee celebration? Can you imagine setting up millions of chairs for people to sit on? Can you imagine innumerable massive projection TV’s spread across acres and acres of land to televise what was happening on the stage (the size of a football field)? Can you imagine the amount of wire this would have necessitated? Can you imagine chanting “OHHHHMMMM” and how unbelievable the resonance of 2.5 million voices sounded together? Can you imagine all of the love and peace that emanated from this one spot on the earth?

I still can’t.

Like I said before, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this trip. I felt completely rejuvenated and am so grateful to have shared in this celebration. This organization, established in over 150 countries, is the largest NGO in the world. Although the focus is on service projects around the world, there are so many courses that you can take that are absolutely phenomenal. To become a teacher, you have to take most of them.

You can go as deep as you’d like with this stuff. Whether you’d like to do these breathing/meditation techniques purely for the health benefits (mental and physical), to touch upon spirituality, or to just learn about some very cool ancient philosophies, they will undoubtedly have a very positive impact on your life.

Translating and integrating this experience was easier to do while in India than once I returned to the US. Coming back to a way of life that involved deriving happiness from possession and continually adjusting my life to fit the expectations of others now did not seem healthy anymore given this new experience I had. I had experienced happiness from another angle. It wasn’t transient and empty anymore; it was lasting and full. It was a gratitude for being alive in the first place, for beginning to understand how conditioned I had been, for having been able to be a part of this experience, and for finally being able to write about it and to pass on it's fragrance.