By Shanti (Ellan) Catacchio, interviewed by Priya Kenney
“I am so delighted that the Ashram has the ability to travel virtually,” says Shanti. “At the March Shaktipat retreat online, Swami Shrutananda told us, ‘Grace beams up to a satellite from Gurudevi and beams right back down into your device.’ I have found that to be true. It was a blessing to have the Ashram in my home.”
Our Ashram has a can-do attitude and the ability to make things happen. For four months, physically visiting our Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram has not been an option because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Within days of March 2020 stay-at-home orders, the Ashram responded by coming to us through the Internet.
“Early in the pandemic, I had an online yoga class with Yogaratna Atmananda.” Shanti realized, ‘Oh my, we can do this.’ When Gurudevi did a satsang online, I was sure of these capacities. The Ashram was so quick to respond! I clearly see the Ashram is more than the buildings in Downingtown. Gurudevi, Ashram residents and staff are all so willing to do what needs to be done. And all are capable of stepping into previously unfamiliar technology. The Ashram is embodied Grace. Grace is the heart and soul of the Ashram and the services it provides to us seekers.”
Shanti appreciates the many wonderful online programs: asana (pose) classes, Meditation Club, Japa Club, Enlightenment Studies, Gurudevi’s Year Long Programme and Swami Sunday. She describes, “These practices have helped me through the pandemic and life in general. I’m grateful so much is available. I’m hearing the teachings in a different way. Even with everything happening in my personal life and the world, I’ve found myself being calm. I’ve thought, shouldn’t I be more upset? I wondered whether my calm was delusion. Was I negating reality? I don’t think so.”
The Ashram’s steady presence shapes Shanti’s response to civil unrest. “A Black Lives Matter and Back The Blue/Trump rally was organized in my town,” says Shanti. “Days before, a lot of anger and fear went back and forth on the town’s Facebook page. I wondered, could I go? I went and wasn’t afraid. It turned out to be very calm. Recently, Gurudevi talked about the power of the ‘butterfly effect’ in her online Swami Sunday discourse. I realized, if I maintain my state settled in Self, that’s going to help.”
Shanti is finishing up Gurudevi’s course on the Pratyabhij~nah.rdayam. It has shown her how the Ashram carries the enlivened, ancient teachings into our modern world. “When I first looked at that course, I had doubts,” recounts Shanti. “How was Gurudevi going to maintain our interest for two years and how could I afford the cost? An Ashram ‘sister’ encouraged me to do it, reassuring me that the money would work out. It did. I think about who I was then and who I’ve come to be through the class. I’m so different. Gurudevi brought the teachings alive. With each verse of this sacred text, Gurudevi gave us practices that allowed me to integrate these deep teachings. She’s working on me.
“Twenty years ago, I walked into a yoga class with a sore shoulder. So I’ve known Gurudevi since she was Rama and I was Ellan. In 2003, I started Svaroopa® Yoga Teacher Training in La Jolla where Gurudevi (then Rama) first established Master Yoga, her original organization. When it moved to PA and morphed into the Ashram, I didn’t understand nor could I imagine what I know now. Everything is about the Ashram. Then, as now, Gurudevi’s vision is to provide the structure and services to enable seekers know the Self within.” The Ashram’s commitment to supporting Self-Realization led Gurudevi to establish a Vowed Order. That is an important heart and soul connection for Shanti. “The Vowed Order is my tribe,” she shares. “Participating as a Vowed Member enhances and grounds me to my commitment. I can’t imagine being on this path and not having other people that I can talk to who are doing the same thing. Grace brought me to what I needed and didn’t even know I wanted.”