Monthly Archives: September 2019

Happy 10th Birthday, Svaroopa Vidya Ashram!

By Kusuma Sachs, Kelly Sharp and Shelley Zeichner

Interviewed by Lori Kenney and Marlene Gast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I bow to the Honored Guru,

who illumines all that exists,

but whom the mind can never know.

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

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

Drawn Like a Moth to the Flame

by Carolyn (Karuna) Beaver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fix That Sticks

By Carolyn (Karuna) Beaver

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

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

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

yatha-abhimata dhyaanaad vaa.

Or meditate on whatever you like

[when your mind is distracted or disturbed]

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

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

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

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

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

Quick Fixes for Grand Delusions

By Tom Trautlein, interviewed by Lori (Priya) Kenney

“I’ve been doing those short fixes during the day because I can fit them in anytime.  It’s very centering and very calming to do them.  I’ve been a lot more grounded, and my days don’t spiral out of control.  It was particularly easy working in the two-minute mantra repetition, which helped my mind from building grander delusions.”

In the middle of many moving parts, Tom serves as Communications Traffic Manager for the Ashram.  It can get hectic as he coordinates timelines and, with his team, ensures that Ashram publications and advertisements are published in a timely manner.  That’s why he has paid special attention to Sadguru Nirmalananda’s 2019 Quick Fix Teachings Articles.  He was particularly grabbed by the first three:

He calls the May practice, “the quickest of the quick fixes” — a quick inhale, followed by a longer exhale and a pause.  “That quick breath, and the pause at the end really struck me.  It has become a ‘go to’ during the course of my day.  I can have six things on my computer screen at a time, it’s getting a little hectic, and that fix brings me back to reality.  Connecting with the Self is great, rather than going into a cerebral panic.

“I use the pause pretty regularly because it is so absolutely quick.  It’s so easy to hang out there after an exhale.  It helps me get in touch with my Self and with all those experiences I’ve had from doing mantra repetition.  The first three fixes — leveling, Ujjayi and mantra repetition — set things up so that when I started to do the pause, it was more familiar and had meaning.”

Tom often has peaceful experiences in nature, especially while kayaking.  The June Quick Fix is “To remember a serene and luminous experience.”  He explains, “When I’m out on a lake, now I’m trying not to focus on the context but the experience I’m having.  Even in the moment of the experience, I’m remembering that I’m having the experience rather than focusing on the surroundings.”

Not only have the Quick Fixes offered immediate benefits for Tom, they have had long-term effects. “I’m getting better at longer practices, which have increased since the beginning of the year.  I’m doing sets of mantra more often.  The fixes have even contributed to me being able to meditate, which was erratic before that.” Tom greatly appreciates the extraordinary experiences of Self he has in Swamiji’s satsangs.  Now he has tools to propel himself into Self.  “These quick fixes are woven throughout my day more.  The experience seems more natural than extraordinary, because it doesn’t happen during a separate time that is set aside, like Sunday satsangs,” concludes Tom.  “With the fixes, it’s right there — actually, right here!”

Decades of Deepening Meditation

By Sandy (Sheyna Purna) Peace, Interviewed by Matrikaa (Marlene) Gast

Yoga always gives you the most important teachings first, Swami Nirmalananda frequently reminds us.  “Swamiji taught me to meditate in La Jolla, at Master Yoga, her first yoga center,” shares Sheyna Purna.  “Her teaching has always been deep and thorough.  I look at my old notes, and it’s all there.  In the very beginning, she was teaching from the authentic, ancient texts.  She quoted the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Shiva Sutras, and even the Pratyabhijnahrdayam.  Swami Nirmalananda (then Rama) taught us the essence of Kashmiri Shaivism, taking us deeply inward, from the beginning.

“She teaches in this way today.  We all go deeper now, yet she was giving us the deep teachings.  We just didn’t have the capacity to comprehend them and absorb the deep inner changes.  I know that I have grown into that capacity.  Swami has always taught gradual, incremental change.  This ever-deepening inner experience of Self is what I’ve experienced over decades of studying with her.”

Sheyna Purna lived in Ramona CA, a small town outside of San Diego, when she began Svaroopa® yoga with Susie Hollister-Schell.  Sheyna Purna remembers Susie’s sending her to Yoga Teacher Training (YTT): “Why don’t you become a Svaroopa® yoga teacher?” Being a single mom, Sheyna Purna was drawn to the promise of this new identity.  She also sensed yoga’s promise of something more in her life.  Just as it does now, Svaroopa® YTT consisted of four levels plus DTS, Embodyment® Yoga Therapy and Radical Anatomy.  Yet Master Yoga was not a residential training center, so Sheyna Purna persevered with a commute, 45-minutes each way for each training program.

YTT students received meditation instruction from Swamiji.  After YTT, Sheyna Purna had some wonderful experiences in Swamiji’s meditation workshops.  Although they were not residential, the day-long and multi-day programs were intense.  Sheyna Purna recalls, “We would sit and meditate, guided by her instructions.  Then we’d describe our experiences, and Swamiji would explain the meaning of our meditations.  Sometimes they were mundane and occasionally much deeper.”

Sheyna Purna vividly remembers an experience from 15 years ago.  At first she thought she was dreaming.  “It was like I was in the bottom of a deep well, immersed in a purplish darkness.  Though it was deep, it wasn’t scary.  On the sides of the well shapes began forming.  At first, I saw just vague shapes.  Then they became more detailed.  They were gold squiggly characters connected by lines across the top.  This glittering unknown language covered the well walls.  As my meditation continued, these shapes would fade, form again, and brighten, over and over.

“Swamiji said, ‘You had a very significant meditation.’  She explained the golden characters were the Devanagari script for Sanskrit, the language of the sacred texts of ancient India.  I’d had a vision of ‘matrikaa,’ the cosmic power.”  The ancient yogic texts describe matrikaa as the power that refracts the primordial sound OM into the 50 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet.  From them emanate the energy that creates our universe.

“When Rama became Swami Nirmalananda a decade ago, I became very serious about meditation.  I established a consistent morning meditation time, recently increasing from 1 hour to 1.5 and then to 2 hours daily.  I became a Svaroopa® Vidya Meditation teacher in 2014.

“Within a year of Swamiji’s sannyas, I began offering seva to her newly formed Ashram.  She once asked me how I think seva works — what is the mechanism?  My response: ‘It’s Magic.’

“All of her teaching over the years has deepened and expanded my capacity to meditate, to teach meditation and to experience my Own Self, the One Self Being All.  Gradual, incremental openings inward have developed my capacity to comprehend and benefit from her profound teachings, and to share them with my students effectively.  More magic!

“The amazing thing is, with Swamiji as my Guru, I can tell that I’ve made spiritual progress.  I notice that I automatically apply practices in my life that Patanjali gives in the Yoga Sutras,” says Sheyna Purna.  She paraphrases, “Cultivate friendliness towards happiness, compassion towards misery, gladness towards virtue and indifference toward vice.”

Explaining how to apply this sutra to your life, Swamiji’s April 2019 Teachings: A New Normal quotes this sutra and renders it in full:

Maitrii-karunnaa-muditopek.saa.naa,m sukha-du.hkha-pu.nya-apu.nya-vi.sayaana.m bhaavanaata”s citta-prasaadanam

—Yoga Sutras of Patanjanli, 1.33

Cultivate friendliness towards happiness, compassion towards misery, gladness towards virtue and indifference toward vice, in order to purify your mind.

—Rendered by Swami Nirmalananada

Sheyna Purna says, “This is my new effortless normal.” She is hosting Swami Nirmalananda for satsangs (free meditation programs) in San Diego on October 18 & 19.  These are splendid opportunities for Swamiji’s original La Jolla students as well as newcomers to meet and meditate with a recognized Sadguru.

The Power of Shaktipat

By Lisha Reynolds, interviewed by Lori (Priya) Kenney

“I wanted to do more of the Svaroopa® Sciences practices to shine the light inward,” shares Lisha Reynolds, “to take me back to Self every single time.  When I’m doing the practices, I don’t need to look outside to be happy or fulfilled.”  That she wanted to deepen her practices became clear to Lisha after YTT Level 3 and receiving a vichara (guided self-inquiry) session.  Going to a Shaktipat Retreat with Sadguru Swami Nirmalananda was the next step in her process. 

Her Shaktipat experiences were profound.  Having received Shaktipat in YTT Level 2, she understood more of what was happening. “I was peacefully settling into my Self much deeper.  During the first Shaktipat, I experienced heat going up my spine, tail to top, up through my crown.  While meditating during the third Shaktipat, a smile came to my face spontaneously.  It was very sweet.  I came away wanting to deepen my relationship with my Guru.  Wanting to be closer to Swamiji and the teachings of this lineage is happening organically.  It’s so beautiful.  Being in her presence is transformative.”

To deepen her relationship with her Guru, Lisha uses the quick fix described in Swamiji’s July 2019 Teachings: Think of a Great Being.  “I have photos of Swami in my mobile phone holder, in my car and on my desk.  It’s powerful to have her presence with me all the time,” describes Lisha.

Grace sometimes works in mysterious ways.  In late July, Lisha had two injuries in two different locations, just a few hours apart.  “The Grace is that it’s helping me to slow down,” says Lisha.  “I wanted to do that anyway.”  Her injuries require a hiatus from teaching Svaroopa® yoga until she heals.  Yet she is not surprised at how things work. She is definitely slowed down! Lisha realizes that going deeper will also transform her teaching.  “To truly give the gift of Grace to your students, you must be even more deeply steeped in the teachings and Grace.  A Shaktipat Retreat takes you there. It opens you up to going deeper.  Meditation is where the magic happens.  You must do it.  Your students will benefit.”