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.
Kelly (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 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!”
“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.
“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.”