Japathon! Seva – by Ellen Mitchell

When I came back from India, I knew I wanted to do seva.  I quickly filled out the application form and sent it in.  I was offered the opportunity to lead the team organizing a Japathon!  How very exciting!  Grace flowed at the very mention of it.  The Grace continued flowing throughout.  What a gift.  Were there bumps in the road?  Yes, there were.  Were there uncertainties?  Absolutely!  Were there questions?  Tons!  Were there answers?  Always.  Throughout it all the Grace flowed and love swelled within me for all.  Tears come to my eyes just writing this.

Swamiji's hands

Swamiji’s hands

I want to thank Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati for the idea, for guidance, for making this the Year of Japa, for all the beautiful recordings about japa, for her superb editing skills, for being.  I thank Devapriyaa Hills for her wise words and fielding all those questions!  Rukmini Abbruzzi for her steady responses and guidance.  Janice O’Brien for her work on the web site Japathon! page and Glen Christensen for helping me figure out how to play a recording clearly.

Thanks to Sharada Macdonald and Kanchan Mohn, who were called to other services; although your time on our team was brief, you made an impact.  I thank the Meditation Group Leaders who so quickly responded to our requests and those who led the Japathon! — Rukmini Abbruzzi, Vibhuti King, Rudrani Nogue and Niranjan Matanich.  I especially want to thank the Japathon! team — Deborah Woodward, Gayatri Hess, and Vicharinee Chafin.  I could feel the Grace coming through every call and email.  Your words brought me to tears on more than one occasion and inspire me to do more japa — thank you.

To those who participated in the Ashram’s fourth birthday — thank you!  The Japathon!, our gift from the Ashram, to the Ashram and to each other, will continue to resonate with Grace, love and joy through us all.  Om Namah Shivaya

A Note from Swamiji

Nirmalananda 2 croppedI echo Ellen’s thanks along with so many others who had a great experience on the call.  Your shares onFaceBook keep trickling in – each one touches my heart deeply.  This is truly the type of birthday celebration I like!  Instead of candles and cheers (as fun as they are), the event is another opportunity to experience your hidden Divinity, your own Self – and an opportunity to express it into the world.

Congratulations to the whole Japathon! team, who really picked up the ball and ran with it.  Behind the scenes, we were served by  Ellen Mitchell (coordinator), Deborah Woodward, Gayatri (Barbara) Hess and Vicharinee (Su) Chafin.  Our phone japa was led by Niranjan Matanich, Vibhuti Courtney, Rudrani Nogue and Rukmini Abbruzzi.  And of course Baba – without whom none of this would exist.  I owe it all to my Guru!

OM svaroopa svasvabhava.h namo nama.h

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Five Years Ago compared to Today, by Saguna (Kelly) Goss, MYF Board Member

 

                     

My first Board meeting was the in-person Board Retreat five years ago, when Rama Berch informed the board that she would be taking sannyasa vows and becoming a monk.  She was interested in teaching more about meditation, the Guru and Grace and wanted to open an Ashram.  The board decided that it would be best if there were two organizations.

saguna-kelly-gossThere were many factors that played into that decision.  One factor was giving Swamiji the freedom to establish the Ashram exactly as she wanted without having to fit within the confines and structure of Master Yoga, a Yoga Teacher Training school.  Swamiji could create an organization focused 100% on knowing the Self.  While this gave Swamiji an open slate, it also meant that she started from scratch and created an entirely separate administrative and board structure.

Another factor the board considered was the interests of different students.  There are so many different practices to choose from within the yoga system: poses, breathing practices, chanting, meditation and worship.  Five years ago, the idea was that we could best serve the students by separating them into two camps: poses and breathing versus meditation and Guru.

It was obvious, almost immediately, that it was not possible to divide the interests so simply.  Within a few months I was leading a committee that was charged with deciding where we draw the line in the sand between Master Yoga and Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram, specifically about where Vichara Therapist Training should be taught.  Vichara is a key tool for teachers to have to deal with students’ minds; however, it is a practice focusing on the mind!  Additionally, in my personal practice I found the line between the two organizations difficult to create.  I remember re-taking Foundations a couple of years ago and having a very difficult time not diving deep into meditation during the whole program – was this a Master Yoga program focused on poses or a Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram leading me to my Self?

Not only is it impossible to divide yoga practices into two groups, it doesn’t serve the students we originally identified, those interested in only some of the practices.  Having two organizations adds complexity and duplication.  And specifically for Svaroopa® Yoga, a yoga practice based on a lineage of Gurus, it is important to have the flow of Grace flowing through all practices.  Whether Swami Nirmalananda is your Guru, or you prefer to see her as the originator of the poses and breathing practices that you love, having her oversight will make the yoga more effective for everyone.

So yes, this is a big change.  Five years ago we made the decision to be two but now, today, the way to best serve you is to be one!  I’m looking forward to this change and to be better able to serve the growing community of Svaroopa® Yogis!

There or Here – Do More Yoga! by Rob Gold

313There’s not one thing in my life I’d rather be doing this weekend more than attending the conference – but I won’t be there. A decision about something else in my life makes it (seem) undoable. A few months ago, about the time I was asked to write this series of pre-conference articles, I learned that my dog had lymphoma. For those of you who have experienced cancer, you know the only certainty is that you don’t know what, when, where, why or how things will change. It’s the great unknown and in that is an equally great lesson in surrender.

I couldn’t imagine leaving her in the care of others if she was sick or dying, nor can I leave her with others when she’s healthy – she’s just not that kind of dog. So, I decided not to decide, or rather to let her condition determine if I was coming or not. The good news is that, three months after her diagnosis, she is as vibrant as ever, thanks in part to some steroids and dietary changes.

I know I’m missing an incredible opportunity to connect this weekend, but I am also blessed with opportunities to connect in my life just as it is; right here, right now. There are always opportunities to do more japa, more seva, reach more students and know more of the Self. After all, what did Swamiji do when she was the only Svaroopi? Or what Muktananda do when He was not in the presence of His Guru? This is the beauty of the teachings: it’s ALL there, ALL the time. Sure, there are people, places and things that make it easier to connect, to accelerate ones spiritual journey, but we can access it any time we chose to direct our free will in that direction.

Will I miss the bhav of sitting in a hall filled with hundreds of Svaroopis? Yes.

Will I miss being in the presence of Swamiji and all the delicious programming? Definitely.

Do feel regular deep openings and connections to the Self from my life and environment here on Maui? Absolutely. After all, chanting the Guru Gita on an empty beach at sunrise  is an experience beyond what I could have imagined when I lived on the mainland.  So who’s to say it’s not actually the right thing for right now?

Living a Divine Life – By Gayatri (Barbara) Hess

Grace flowed so sweetly through our Ashram community as we celebrated the birthday weekend together.  The increased vibration and focus on japa was palpable throughout the community!

In Richmond, Virginia, Deborah Woodward and I invited fellow yogis to join together for the Japathon! conference call.  We had both served on the Japathon! team so it was a true honor to gather for this event.  We had both dedicated more time to our own japa practice and Deborah spent August and September inviting and preparing her students for the Japathon!  It was evident as we gathered together the many layers of “knots” that were unraveling in our community.

“I am more myself, more relaxed, more connected with everything in my life,” said one student, with others nodding in agreement. Om Namah Shivaya is truly the liberating song of God.

One new student who had been inquiring about mantra repetition said,

I never knew how powerful repeating a word could be in keeping my mind focused in meditation.

What grace came into her life.  Not only had she been introduced to mantra, but also to the gifts of being introduced to the rich lineage of Svaroopaâ Vidya Ashram and the understanding of our song of God, our song of Self.  Another student said,

Chanting connects me to my inner calm.  My meditations after chanting are deep and sweet.

Thank you Swami Nirmalananda for dedicating 2013 as the Year of Japa.  It is a gift to me, my community, the Ashram and the world.

The Time Has Come – by Kanchan Mohn, SVA Board Member

Kanchan Connie MohnBringing Master Yoga’s teacher training and asana programming under the umbrella of Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram, Swami Nirmalananda’s home base,  is a “no brainer”  to me.  It is alignment with Grace, a returning home, to family, to the safety and security of the womb.

Svaroopa Yoga is a Grace-born yoga; Grace born through Swamiji. There is no denying or hiding that fact and to try to do so only weakens the yogis’ and yoga’s connection with Grace, and in turn, the yoga and the organization supporting the yoga is weakened. We’ve watched this happen to Master Yoga. In a recent survey, eighty-five percent of the yogis interested enough to respond supported consolidation.

Its time has come.

OM svaroopa svasvabhava.h namo nama.h

Our Song of Self – by Deborah Woodward

Forty-six hosts sponsored our Saturday Japathon!, celebrating the Ashram’s fourth birthday.   Across the US, Canada and Europe, Svaroopa® yoga teachers and students joined in our great japa event!

maureenshorttBindu (Maureen) Short reports that in Buckingham PA, following the teleconference call, japa flowed into meditation as part of the regularly scheduled monthly satsang.  Two students who each had recently had surgery both credited japa with helping them through the anxiety before their operations, as well as with being immobile afterward.  Japa comes to them now naturally and automatically.

SandyCourtneyKingThroughout September, Vibhuti (Sandra) Courtney King of Hopedale MA led her weekly meditation groups into meditation with japa. Some of her students purchased mala beads and began doing japa as preparation for their home practice.   This is what some of them said about japa:

 

When we went from repeating aloud to repeating the mantra silently, the mantra continued on its own, leading me to a very deep place. It was so effortless.

I have never experienced meditation in this way! My mind was still very busy, but the mantra was front and center and very compelling. For the first time, the mantra was more interesting than my thoughts. I feel like I am just beginning to understand what meditation is!

What IS the mantra?! It feels alive!

Yes, the mantra is alive! In our Japathon! celebration, our mantra became a mighty river of Grace, flowing through each and every one of us.

Swami has given us, in 2013, The Year of Japa. Allow this great gift to unfold fully, allow the Grace of the mantra to bring you all the way to your own Self.  Our beloved lineage — of Nityananda, Baba and Swami — is pointing the way: Meditate on your own Self.

Chant Loudly – Everyone Benefits – by Pooja Erica Andersen

Pooja_Erica_AndersenAre you joining us for the Ashram’s birthday Japathon!?  The phone conference call is Saturday September 28 at 10:00 am Eastern Time, beginning with Swami Nirmalananda’s talk followed by a group japa session. With technology to connect us, physical distance doesn’t stand in the way of our coming together in celebration. This event may end up being the largest group of Svaroopis chanting together to date. You won’t want to miss it!

In her talk January 27, Swamiji discussed two types of japa, loud and silent (click here to listen to the audio).  “The mind we are saddled with is stupid. To make it worse we allow it think all kinds of foolish futile thoughts. That is why I insist on discipline and good habits, and that is why japa has such an important place.”  She followed this with, “There are two kinds of japa: loud and silent. In meditation when you are doing japa in solitude the japa is mental.  While in a group chant, you chant loudly and everyone around benefits.”

I love this last statement.  “…chant loudly and everyone around benefits.”   In every Master Yoga and Ashram training or event we chant.  We repeat mantra together aloud as a group. If you have had this experience, think back on it.  How did you benefit?  Did it appear to you that those around you benefitted?

I find coming together with other Svaroopis for japa or to chant is amazing. The chant is so alive.  It’s like a river of Grace that arrives to flow on and deliver me to my Self, right alongside everyone I am chanting with.  It’s so sweet, so joyful and so easy.  Frankly, because of reciprocal adaptation, even if I sat in the group chant and didn’t say a word, that river of Grace would sweep me up into it.  Amazing!

The group chant has 3 unique stages for me:

Stage 1:  The Introduction

In the moments before the chant begins, the attention of the group tends to be scattered. Individuals may be fiddling around with propping or chatting amongst themselves.   Then the leader of the chant provides instruction about the mantra, the individual Sanskrit words along with their pronunciations and meanings.  She or he also tells us whether to chant in unison with them, or in call-and-response (where the leader chants a line and the group repeats it back).

As I practice the Sanskrit pronunciations before we start, the words feel cumbersome and awkward in my mouth.  Everything feels a bit chaotic.  Instruments may be tuning up, like harmonium, tabla (drum) and string instruments (tamboura, guitar, sitar, etc.).  Often, simple percussion instruments are handed out to the group to play along.  Sometimes I will take a simple rattle to play along, but most of the time I don’t as drumming or playing an instrument can distract my attention during the chant.

Stage 2: The Chant

As the chant starts, the group begins to follow the directions of the chant leader.  Other noises quiet, and movement settles down.  The chaos starts to subside, replaced by consistency.   It may take several minutes for the group to get into the groove, but their focus starts to narrow in on the mantra, melody and rhythm. For me, the effort of pronouncing the words falls away and the chant begins to flow through my mouth.

The words of the chant seem to dance through the air in a repetitive sequence. As phrases repeat themselves, it can feel more like they differ than stay the same.  I notice that although I am saying possibly the same line many times, each time I say it, it offers me a different angle in which to view the expression.

Through the chant, I have many opportunities to touch the mantra and feel it penetrate through me.  The opportunity to be absorbed into the chant is deepened and widened through the experience others are having.    I drink in their sound as they float in the same river of Grace as me.  The space around us shifts to something new, something timeless, something pure and Divine.  The chant carries me, along with those around me, into the awareness of the Divine.

Stage 3: The Divine

This is a full place.  This space I feel complete in. There is nothing separate from me.  It’s infinite and timeless.  My deep yearning becomes satisfied. As I recall this experience right now I well up with tears thinking about how special this state, space, place, or knowing is.

When the chanting ends, I open my eyes and look around, I see that each of the individuals around me have changed.  Their expressions radiate this Divine place.  Their presence reinforces the reality of what I am experiencing.

I feel a deep sense of gratitude for everyone in the group.  The space around me has shifted into a sacred space and I feel honored to be in it.  There is no longer chaos, only a sense that all that is, is as it should be.

Swamiji’s also said, “When you’re chanting aloud, the sound of the mantra, which is the sound of consciousness, crystalizes into words vibrating with the wholeness of consciousness, with the integrated force of consciousness.” I perceive this as what I have referred to as a flowing river of Grace.

Our chant this weekend is a group chant without music, called “japa.”  In our Japathon!, we chant because we are celebrating the birth of the Ashram.  Of course, all births are blessed, as life is a gift.  But the Svaroopaâ practices and the Ashram were birthed and they exist to support us in the knowing of our own inherit Divinity.  The river of Grace runs through our practice to saturate us with the knowing of the Self.  How special is that?

As we each chant together, from whatever towns we are in, across the world, we will be allowing that Grace to flow through us — for everyone to benefit.  How could you miss the opportunity to be a part of such a Divine event?