By Cayla (Mangala) Allen
Chanting filled my ears and filled my heart, as I settled into Kailasa, the Ashram’s meditation hall in Downingtown PA. I became saturated in the vibrations of “Jyota se Jyota.” This bhajan — a devotional song composed for Swami Nirmalananda’s Guru, Swami Muktananda — petitions the Guru: “light my inner flame with your flame.” Our 2019 New Year’s Retreat had begun.
Three other yogis performed arati, waving candle flames in circles to our Gurus’ photos, the ritual invoking the Grace of our lineage. As the retreat continued to unfold, I began to melt into my experience. A long, guided Ujjayi Pranayama (breathing practice) cleared the way for me to receive the teachings I had come to embrace. Afterward, my meditation was deep and sweet. Then another arati finished our session. I can’t imagine a more glorious way to begin the journey into a New Year.
Our retreat meals were twenty minutes of tastiness followed by twenty minutes sitting in Vajrasana (Digestive Pose). I focused on my food, indulged my senses and appreciated the quietude afterward. In Vajrasana, I repeated mantra, noticing my pace slowing down. This allowed me to be more fully present throughout the retreat. Other asanas (poses) also opened space deeply within my belly. I could feel my physical digestion improving.
Moreover, throughout our retreat, Swami Nirmalananda’s teachings extended well beyond my physical digestion. She emphasized that it’s essential to digest thoughts and life experiences as well. I learned that when I don’t digest it all, tension flourishes, both physically and mentally. This affects everything! Vichara (guided self-inquiry) gave me tools to become better at digesting everything. All her discourses led me to understand how I was living my life. They clarified how I can choose to bring more meaning into my life.
On New Year’s Eve, I joined the group in chanting “Chidaananda-roopah, Shivo’ham Shivo’ham.” The translation is, “My nature is the bliss of pure consciousness, I am Shiva. I am Shiva.” I received Swamiji’s message that I am more than I think I am. My life is meaningful because I’m in it, supported by an undercurrent running through it. That inherent flow carries me when I cannot carry myself. When I invest myself in whatever I am doing, my life becomes more meaningful.
On New Year’s Day, along with the group, I feasted on a scrumptious lunch at Shivaloka (the Ashram residence). I steeped in the Ashram’s sublime energy. Later, Swamiji offered an evening Satsang where I pondered the questions she asked: how I want to live? consciously or unconsciously? Who am I while I do what I do? Am I able to direct my energy in living consciously? Or do I direct it into chasing my instincts? Just having heard these questions shifted something in me. Continuing to contemplate them helped me delve deeper within. I have been able to bring the experience of Self into my life. This shift has continued to work in my life throughout the whole year!
“When you draw from the depths of your being,” said Swamiji, “You will have a capacity for life that gives you the ability to make the most of every day.” Since the retreat, I have become aware of immersing myself more in whatever I am doing. I feel fortunate to be able to dive within, discovering something more inside. Thus, living from the inside out, I find more and more meaning in my life. What unfolded for me in the retreat remains rich and full, affecting me deeply. As I am more aware of who I am, life becomes sacred. My actions become sacred. If you have the opportunity, make time to immerse yourself in our 2020 New Year’s Retreat. You will be forever grateful that you gave yourself this gracious gift.