Saturday, January 7, 2017

GURU CHAOS AT THE CHARLOTTE AIRPORT

GURU CHAOS AT THE CHARLOTTE AIRPORT
DEC 30TH, 2016



“You’re bigger than the President!” exclaimed the United Airlines ticket agent, smiling at Gurudev. “Can I take you to the front of the security line?” He returned the smile, and quietly continued proceeding through the security checkpoint on his own.

However, the moment he exited another 100+ devotees engulfed him like a tidal wave, replacing the 100 or so he had just left at the check in area! Among the group waiting for him, was the ticket agent who had just passed him in the security line. To my amazement, she’d had easily fallen into step with all the devotees who were surrounding Gurudev. “He’s bigger than the President and yet, he’s so humble,” she said full of excitement. “I just can’t believe how humble he is, when he is clearly bigger than the President! “

A massive sea of people wound around through the airport terminal toward Gurudev's gate, moving with him, as though everyone was just one huge unit of life. He gracefully and effortlessly continued toward his gate, taking it all in stride. A few minutes later, like a seasoned pro at following a Guru, the ticket agent was once again, right by his side.  She had learned his name by now and rather than using the more formal, Sri Sri – she chose to call him Guruji.

 “Guruji, I know you’re bigger than the President! This is a huge crowd. I’m going to walk you to your gate,” she said, enthusiastically, with the first buds of devotion clearly showing through.

By the time Gurudev reached the gate, the crowd had swelled to at least 150+ or more and devotee feverishness to be near him, was quickly escalating.  In an attempt to manage the situation, Gurudev took a seat near the gate and asked all the devotees to also sit down. Yet, just like ripples in the ocean, rings and rings of devotees circled him, handing him notes, photos for blessings, letters and food, while bowing at his feet. It didn’t take long before his “new friend,” was back by his side. This time it was clear, she was in her official role as an airline representative.

She informed Gurudev that she would like to take him to an area that was less congested, which, we assumed was a lounge or private room. Instead, it turned out to be an empty space behind the gate partition, with a single plastic chair. She directed him to wait back there while she took care of a few things. Not one to be kept from his people, our mischievous Gurudev kept peeking out from either side of the partition, waving at devotees who were as excited to see him now, as they were the first minute they caught site of him at the airport!

And just like that, without anyone saying a word to her, the ticket agent took control of the situation over the P.A. system. “Attention people in the area! If you will sit down Guruji will come around and meet each of you,” she directed, effortlessly moving into her new role as as -Darshan Line Manager!

To our surprise, 200 feverish devotees simply sat down in response to her uniform and no nonsense “Mom voice." I supposed a burning desire not to miss Gurudev’s Airport Darshan (blessings) also had something to do with it.

Gurudev came out from behind the partition, weaving his way around row, after row, after row, of plastic airport chairs to meet with hundreds of devotees.  Everything was peaceful for a few minutes, until one by one, devotees started getting up to move closer to him. One or two people, quickly grew to 5...10...20...30, and the next thing we knew, Jasmine, the ticket agent, was back on the loudspeaker.  I could only wonder what the other passengers in the area were thinking about the whole drama!

She motioned to Gurudev to speak over the P.A. and when that didn't happen, she tried to enlist me. I shook my head no, and gratefully, she continued on her own.  “Attention people in the lounge area Guruji WILL come around to see you, if you SIT down and WAIT for him. Otherwise we will have to call law enforcement and no one will get to see him. Thank you for your patience.” Gurudev laughed and laughed at the unfolding scene, while gently requesting devotees to sit and wait for him to come to them. 

(video:UA TICKET AGENT TURNED DARSHAN LINE MANAGER

The combination of Jasmine’s sincerity, firmness with friendliness and the utterly surprising fact that she somehow knew that it was imperative that the Airport Darshan Line continue, did the trick. She had actually done a better job managing the spontaneous devotee chaos that had erupted in a normally dull airport lounge, better than the most experienced tall, white kurta clad security person, I’d ever seen – anywhere!

By the time Gurudev’s delayed flight arrived, Jasmine had organized every detail to make it the most comfortable for Gurudev and all of his devotees. Everyone who wanted to meet with Gurudev had been able to and there were no incidents or upset passengers in the area, which held gates for other airlines. She’d also arranged for him to board early with the flight crew and had arranged an electric cart in Dulles Airport to ensure he made his connecting flight to Germany.

Jasmine’s innocence, enthusiasm and care had captured all of our hearts, just as Gurudev had captured hers -  from his very first glance. I’m pretty sure we’ll see her soon at the Boone Ashram and when we do, it’s probably best,  to just get out of the way and let her through!


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Dipping in the Holy River with the Master



1998 Rishikesh, India with Gurudev




Mornings in Rishikesh are magical; the narrow streets lined with tiny shops tightly squeezed next to one another overflow with incense, jewelry, Rudraksha beads (holy beads), photos of saints, spiritual books, sacred music and a wide assortment of all kinds of trinkets. Saints, Sannyasis and workers can be seen huddling around steaming kettles of water, while they sip a hot cup of chai with their morning dosa.  Every day, I barely controlled the urge to happily skip through town as my senses filled with the sound of bhajans and temple bells, the smell of incense along with exotic spices and the sight of so many seekers.

Our time in Rishikesh was filled with Gurudev, meditation, music and celebration and budding friendships that would come to last a lifetime.  Evening Satsangs were pure bliss full of music and knowledge. One particular evening, I finally mustered enough courage to raise my hand to ask Gurudev a question.

“Do we find you as our Guru, or do you find us? “  Smiling he took a moment to reply. "It can be either way. He paused, and  blinking his eyes at me, added " and  sometimes you make a pact.” Finally, I had my answer.




It is believed that taking a dip in the Ganges River, considered by Hindus as the holiest of rivers, removes all past sins.  Gurudev had thoughtfully arranged for us all to take this sacred step on our spiritual journey, in his presence. The day finally arrived and it was very exciting.  We ran like children toward the steps of the Ganges, waiting for a sign from Gurudev, as to what to do next.

He motioned for the women to gather on one side of the river, and men gathered on the other side, withGurudev right in the middle of the men as we all faced one another. I was in the front row, along with Shirley, Caroline, Marcy, and other friends, looking directly at Gurudev, excitedly waiting for the moment that we would take the mystical "dip" together, in the sacred river. 

Smiling, with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, Guru pinched his nose and very, very slowly began to dip into the  river. He was intentionally moving so slowly, so that we would feel every - single - freezing- cold - wet- sensation as he kept his eyes on all of us, and we certainly kept our eyes fully on him.

Finally we were completely submerged and in an instant, Marcy, Caroline, Shirley and I shot up like rockets from the full intensity of the cold Ganges. Was this part of the tapas (penance) in removing our sins, or like Krishna thousands of years ago, was our Guru having some fun with us? 

Watching us shrieking and squealing from the freezing cold water, he threw his head back laughing, pinched his nose again and down we went, two more times, as slowly as the first. 


Cold, wet and happy, the entire crowd wildly cheered along with Gurudev, as we rose from the final dip.

I have no idea if the myth about becoming free of all my sins in the Ganges River is true. What I do know is that I was with my Guru when it happened and I felt completely happy and free,  in a holy land. If anyone in heaven has been keeping track of my life through the years, this combination certainly has to count for something. 

------


Sunday, August 16, 2015

MY FIRST MEDITATION COURSE WAS ANYTHING BUT EASY:AN EXCERPT FROM MY BOOK



I attended about four Art of Silence Courses in the first year I joined the Art of Living Foundation. I  dreaded each one, yet I kept signing up because it was clear at the end of every course, something profoundly good was happening within me.

My first silent meditation course was particularly difficult. It was in the mountains of Woodland Park, Colorado. I was surrounded by the majestic Rocky Mountains with a clear view of Pikes Peak. It seemed like a peaceful setting, but I was squirming with restlessness from the start. After the first day, there was no talking, no tv, radio, reading and we were only supposed to pass notes to the teacher if it was urgent. 

The course organizers provided light vegetarian food - super- lite to be exact. I'd heard about the  menu in advance, and had sneaked in bagels, cookies and chocolate, which I shared with my fellow course participants. 
I was an instant friend to all, or so it seemed. I quickly realized that this kind of food brought about sleep, not meditation. 

Every evening, I was awake for hours, alone in the silence of my cabin. The only sound was the ticking of a clock and the crackling of the fire in the wood stove. This is when I made all kinds of plans to escape the course.

Somehow, when the sun was rising, my plans moved to the back of my mind and I managed to show for morning yoga. At the end of it, I was always glad I'd made the effort. 

One afternoon, a fellow seeker on the course, sent me a note. Like me,
Hope was also a corporate executive, with a 
demanding job and a busy life. She wrote that she jealous out how deep I was meditating.  The third day she slipped me another note, letting me know she was no longer jealous. She had realized I wasn't in deep meditation every afternoon - I was asleep!   

Every evening after dinner, we had something called, Satsang, which means,  "in the company of truth." During this time everyone sang and played instruments. The songs were called, Bhajans, which are songs in Sanskrit in praise of the Divine. I wasn't very comfortable with Satsang. It reminded me of the Christian youth events I'd attended, sitting around the fire singing.  I wasn't into the dogma of religion, so this pushed an old button.

As soon as people brought out the tambourines and started singing, my cynical American mind took over;  I started wondering what I was being asked to sing. I didn't know what the words meant - was I praising the Devil? 

I finally wrote a letter to our teacher, Philip about my experience so far.
I let him know that this course was THE most BORING thing I’d ever done in the Art of Living and I wanted to understand the point of all the silence.

 Philip, (who eventually became a life-long friend) read my letter aloud to the class.  At the end of it, he laughed and said, it was just my own resistance.  

I felt my Italian/Irish temper starting to rise with his response.
Boredom was good? The fact I'd paid money to sit in silence and was unhappy with the experience was good? What about the singing?

A cloud came over my face. Philip noticed, and thankfully, he explained a little more.  He said that the boredom signified I was evolving, and to just be with that boredom.  The resistance I was experiencing, was my own resistance to being with myself. The restlessness I felt, was the restlessness within myself. Normally we're just too busy to notice what is actually happening within ourselves, and rather than feel it - we distract it.  

He went on to explain that when we sit and observe what is happening, without judging, the impressions of the past dissolve.  He also taught us that Bhajans are songs in the Sanskrit language, which is the oldest language we know of.  These are songs of praise to the Divine, to God, our higher power (however you want to term the unseen power that moves us.)

The beauty of Sanskrit is that every word is scientifically designed to
 expand consciousness. Someone translated, one of the Bhajans for me,
 and I was absolutely moved by its poetry and how skillfully the composer was able to express their devotion to God.

Philip suggested I sing whatever I wanted, and to observe whatever emotions came up whenever my buttons were pushed. I was just to observe what was happening within me, to watch the physical sensations, as though I was watching a movie. 

It was the last night of the course, and I was starting to trust Philip who came across quite gentle, authentic and sincere.  Since there was no hope of being able to pronounce any Sanksrit that night,I shrugged my shoulders and followed his instructions. I listened to the music and closed my eyes, allowing it to wash over me. Eventually my toe started tapping to the rhythm and a smile began to slowly emerge. 

The next day we sat for more meditations, one after another for hours.  
Today, this is referred to as an "intense meditation course" in the Art of Living Foundation  but when I started, it was the norm.  

After a few hours, Philip asked if we wanted another meditation, or a break. My hand immediacy shot up as I thought "BREAK! BREAK!"
I  was an outdoor person which is why I moved to Colorado from Texas; I was desperate for mountain air instead of sitting inside for another hour. 

That’s when the course's stereotypical California, long-legged, blonde devotee (who never wore shoes)  jumped up and down enthusiastically for,
one…more….meditation.

 I “silently” looked around for the tambourine she banged every night, imagining hitting her over the head with it; then I remembered I was on a path of non-violence. 

Sensing my frustration, Jane flashed her non-stop, ear to ear smile,
(which I was starting to find annoying)  and said, “hang in there, it gets better. You'll looooove it when the bliss shows up." 

Sneering at Jane yet at the time, feeling her sincerity, I closed my eyes for one…more…silent…meditation.  But there was no silence in my head. I was thinking about my backache, what I would eat when I got out of here, the coolness of the glass door I was leaning against, starting my car and taking off, along with Philip’s instruction to look at my own resistance.

That's when it happened. I don't know how, it just happened.

Meditation started taking over; all my resistance was just slipping away.
It was the same feeling as holding your fist super tight, and then just letting your hand open up.  This was the letting go that Philip had told me about.

I don’t remember what happened next, but I will never forget the feeling of free-floating bliss -  it was the ultimate freedom.

I didn't want to open my eyes when Gurudev's melodic voice began singing an ancient chant, indicating the meditation was over. 

I realized that THIS was what these old time meditators were talking about! 
This was fantastic! I was floating, freely, blissfully, in my own Self. 

The restlessness and agitation within myself was completely gone.
I just felt...peace. I was so happy, so free- I wanted it to last forever.

When the course was over, someone shared information about another Silence course coming up.  I registered for it, on the spot. Before I left to return to Denver, I made plans to drive with someone else to the next Silence Course. I didn't trust myself. I knew I’d run away from being with my own emotions and thoughts, if I had my own car, and then I'd miss the bliss. 


Driving home, I reflected on how I'd become totally caught up in the material world of life, with all its distractions. I was so rajasic (an ayurvedic term that means our energy is not settled) that it was a struggle just to sit still for an hour at a time, with my own Self.  I had a newfound respect for the breathing techniques I'd learned in the Art of Living. The breath work really helped me to settle down and realize the peace and bliss deep within myself.

Just a glimpse of the bliss Gurudev spoke about, and I was more committed than ever before to find out how to have it as a way of life, in the same way that he exuded peace and bliss in his very being. 

I didn't fully understand what I'd experienced, but one thing I did know - it was something worth delving deeper into.

--- SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH OTHERS...

What was your first silence course like?
How has meditation changed your life?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Frogs are back!




Many years ago at the Art of Living Canadian Ashram, we had a "frog situation."

There were an incredible amount of noisy frogs in the pond outside of Gurudev's kutir (cottage). The croaking was so loud and so constant, Gurudev (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar) couldn't even sleep at night.

As soon as it became dusk, and into  the early morning, you could hear the loud and steady drone from virtually every corner of the Ashram.

CROAK, CROOOOAK, CROAK!!!!

One day, making a game of it, we tasked the children with catching the frogs and shifting them
to another lake, away from the kutir.  We never thought about the fact that they could jump and in a short amount of time, the frogs eventually returned o their original home! Years later we're still laughing over the absurdity of the situation, with Gurudev laughing the hardest!

Eventually we built a new home for Gurudev, farther up the hill and away from
the croaking frogs. Every now and then as I walk past the pond at night, I hear some light croaking.
I smile to myself with a comforting sense of nostalgia. As long as it's just a few, we're all happy.

I moved to the Boone Ashram last October. One of the things I like most about the Art of Living Center here is the nature and the profound silence. Since Springtime, the most I hear in a day is the wind in the trees or the melodic sound of chirping birds.

Until a few week ago.
That's when it started. Right outside my window. At dusk.
And they're singing the same, loud tune - over and over and over again.

CROAK!  CROOOOOAK! CROAK!


Trying to find solace in yet another, "frog situation"  I researched the Native American symbolism for the frog and learned that the frog represents:
  • Cleansing
  • Renewal, rebirth
  • Fertility, abundance
  • Transformation, metamorphosis
  • Life mysteries and ancient wisdom
Well, I can take a shower to cleanse.
I have no use for fertility.
Transformation through the Grace of the Guru has been happening for years.
I already teach the ancient wisdom and the mysteries of life are to be lived, not shown.




Right now, there is one lone frog.

I'm sorry to say, I hope he doesn't find a mate in this pond.  Otherwise, you'll find me spending time with the youth teachers at our Summer Camp, convincing them to play a whole new game of
"Leap Frog" and "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride,"  using live frogs!!

Meanwhile, I'm going to take a walk over to the pond to let this lonely guy know, we've got it covered and to hop on over to the lake....the dating scene is better over there!
-----

The Art of Living Canadian devotees will have more funny anecdotes. Please do share!




Wednesday, May 13, 2015

FROM VIOLENCE TO PEACE, ONE BREATH AT A TIME


April 30th, 2015, I had the honor to attend an intimate gathering of Baltimore, Maryland, community leaders and youth activists in the presence of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. It was a powerful,
open-hearted conversation regarding the civil unrest and violence in the city, following Freddie Gray's death. The intention was to understand all perspectives on what was contributing to the escalation in violence, and identify peaceful and sustainable solutions going forward.

The event, organized by the International Association for Human Values (www.iahv.org) with the Art of Living Foundation( www.artofliving.org), was held at the International Center for Peace in Washington, D.C., founded by Sri Sri.


Freddie Gray Jr. had been arrested for what Baltimore police alleged, was an illegal switchblade. He had fallen into a coma from spinal cord injuries proven to be sustained during transportation in a police van. The 25 year old eventually succumbed to his injuries and passed away, April 19th, 2015.

Chaos, violence, looting and the burning of businesses had escalated to a fever pitch the night before Sri Sri arrived in Washington, D.C.  The Governor of Maryland declared a state of emergency, calling in the National Guard and invoking a night curfew to protect the citizens.

The meeting was short yet impactful. Sri Sri listened intently, giving each person in the room an opportunity to share his/her perspective on the current situation.

"The distribution of government resources to start a business is unfair. We need to create equality in how the funds are handled so that young people have a chance as entrepreneurs," said one young social activist and small business owner. 

Patti Montella & Youth Activists
" The anger and violence in Baltimore today isn't because of one person's death; it's the result of 400 years of oppression toward the African American community. We were never taken into account when this country was formed, " said another young social activist and leader.

" The media is sensationalizing the situation. They're  filming in areas that have been abandoned for years to create fear around the curfew.  Yesterday I watched the police harass people who were just trying to walk their kids safely home, " said a young woman, active in the community.


An older woman echoed the same. She implored Sri Sri to help the children overcome the trauma of the civil unrest and violence by sharing the meditation and breathing techniques his foundations teach worldwide.

The dialogue ensued with an honest and practical sharing that focused on how to proceed, in peace, in order to bring about sustainable happiness and peace for everyone in Baltimore, including the police department.

It seemed as though the meeting ended too quickly as the topic was deep and the need great. Sri Sri had yet another flight to catch with thousands in North Carolina awaiting his arrival along with never-ending list of global concerns to manage. He's become quite a magician when it comes to time management on a global scale.
He has a special ability to maximize the time he has with people to clearly see all sides of a situation, identify peaceful solutions and inspire leaders to take skillful action.

As good fortune would have it, I was joining Sri Sri on the flight to North Carolina. I hurried to grab my suitcase, pausing halfway down the stairs to soak up the scene in front of me. Huddled together at a small dining table, the event attendees and organizers were chatting animately about how to bring the Art of Living and IAHV programs to the Baltimore community.

Today, I received the good news, that programs are happening already in tandem with community leadership training.

May 1, 2015 the Baltimore City State Attorney Office filed criminal charges against the six police officers believed to be involved in Mr. Gray's death. May 3rd the night curfew was lifted and protests continued peacefully. The U.S. Department of Justice has launched a full-scale civil rights investigation into Baltimore's police department.

The New York times reported the  Gray family saying that they were satisfied with the charges. “We must seize this opportunity to reform police departments throughout this country,” said the family’s lawyer, William H. Murphy Jr.

Non-violent conflict resolution among people of different backgrounds, cultures and religions is possible in affecting positive social change.  It works.

Ghandi led the way in the past, along with historical figures in the United States including: leaders of the women's movement, Martin Luther King Jr. , Harriet Tubman and the U.S. Labor movement.



Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is leading the way today.

In the past, I've felt like a tiny drop in the ocean when it comes to making a difference in the world. Now it's clear ; all it takes is one person willing to inspire and lead the change we all want to see.


Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Baltimore Community Leaders,Filiz Odabas-Geldiay


HOW ARE YOU LEADING THE CHANGE TOWARD A NON-VIOLENT SOCIETY ?
I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!


A FEW SUGGESTIONS ON HOW YOU CAN TAKE ACTION TODAY

Ø  As an educator, youth or parent, support programs in school, to provide education on how to safely release stress and nurture human values such as kindness, compassion, sincerity and a sense of belonging. www.iahv.org

Ø  As a veteran, family member or concerned citizen, support programs proven tO alleviate stress and trauma, without the use drugs. www.projectwelcomehometroops.com

Ø  As a global citizen, learn how to meditate and take responsibility for your own mind and emotions in order to foster greater peace and happiness in your self, your family and community.
www.artofliving.org

Ø  As a business leader, get engaged and partner with like-minded organizations to facilitate global dialogue and skillful action, to build wider public trust in business through corporate ethics based in human values and social responsibility.
www.wfeb.org