In this candid first-person account Yuva ANOUSHKA STHALEKAR from London shares some warm memories of her experience at the NRI Shivir at Karla and confesses she plans to return soon because, in her own words, (November 2017)
“I Want To Know More!”
Until a few months ago I had little knowledge about the traditions we follow and the various activities conducted in our Shri Chitrapur Math. Living in London, I had grown a bit apart from my culture and so I had been wanting to visit India for a while now to reconnect with my roots. This also meant that I had no expectations from the Math and came into this sacred experience completely open-minded, all ready to listen and learn many new things.
My father, brother and I decided to attend the NRI Shivir along with a few other of our UK Saraswat friends. Among them were Aparna Hoskotepachi, Poulumipachi, Gia, Shashankmam, Chandrumam, Sujatapachi and Shashimam Bailoor. When we arrived at Karla Math, the UK, Australian and American Shibirarthi-s were introduced to each other and to the Sanchalak-s, who were going to teach and help out at the Shivir. The Shivir took place during Chaturmasa, a period of four fortnights during which period Swamiji camps in one place. This meant that the Math became very busy and had a certain added warmth and excitement to it because of Swamiji’s Presence. After introductions, we were shown around the Math -the temple, the dining hall, Parijnanashram Swamijis’ spiritual residence and the Goshala.
Visiting the Goshala caught everyone’s attention. We learnt that the cows that stay there are all of the native Gir breed and they give so many ‘gifts’ to the Math. They produce a special milk containing healthy proteins, their urine is filtered, recycled and combined to produce an ayurvedic potion beneficial to diabetes. Additionally the cow pat is used to generate energy for the Math. Above all, these cows are very gentle and loving animals. It was so lovely to see the strong bond that exists between the cows, bulls and their caretakers.
The first official day of the Shivir activities included a very early start of 5am, and I felt surprisingly awake due to the first- day excitement. We started the day off with ‘ninaad’, a breathing exercise that helps to relieve stress and anxiety by focusing on breathing and bodily sensations. This was followed by some more active exercises on the rebounder. The use of ninaad and the rebounder exercises showed us that it is important to keep fit. I felt both were fairly simple and easy to incorporate and stick to for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This is a great way to exercise from the comfort of your own home and can also be tailored to suit all age-groups.
Thanks to Chaturmasa, we had the opportunity to have many interactions with Swamiji during the Shivir. Some had met Him many times earlier, but for others like me, this was a completely new experience. Our first interaction with Swamiji was a question –and- answer session. Myself, like many other people would have loved to share with Swamiji all my life’s problems to receive some wise solutions. However, due to time constraints and keeping in mind the needs of everyone else, I decided to save something for later meetings. As this was my first interaction with Swamiji in a group, I thought I would be a listener and just absorb all that was happening in each session.
In one of Swamiji’s talks in particular, He spoke about how people like to put on a front to appear nice, polite and good person, particularly when they are around Him (Swamiji) and how this creates a walking -on -egg shells type of feeling for everyone. He said, however, that we should not try to do this, and only try to be our natural selves. Of course, what matters is to be a good person above all, but we should not try and create an airy- fairy world for ourselves. Rather, it is better to be real and raw with our emotions. From the many interactions and talks, I feel like I learnt a lot from Swamiji. Though the audience were all of different ages, we all took something away, our own personal connection, from the same thought- provoking, inspiring and down- to- earth discussions.
On the last day of the Shivir I chose to take mantra-diksha, and there are a few reasons why I choose to do this. Firstly, I am open to using techniques to focus and calm the mind (such as being mindful). However, I tend to use these techniques quite erratically, usually when I am feeling anxious. I felt, therefore, that by taking mantra diksha I would discover a daily way of focusing my thoughts and by concentration on my own personal mantra I would be able to start the day feeling spiritually invigorated. This also meant mastering the discipline to do the japa every day. Most importantly, after a few days of the Shivir and the invaluable interactions with Swamiji, I wanted to strengthen my personal connection with Swamiji, and discover my inner strength -which awareness, I felt, would deepen with time.
Before I had taken mantra-diksha I was also slightly nervous about the forthcoming presentation that the UK group were going to present and a song I had to sing. However, after meeting with Swamiji, taking mantra-diksha and chatting with Him for a while, I can honestly say that as soon as I left the room, I felt as if a huge weight was off my chest. Whereas earlier I had been fearful of performing badly, I now felt so relaxed, energized and confident, ready to enjoy the presentation and song. Some people were kind enough to say that I had a happy glow around me. Doing japa seemed to have somehow helped me to create a positive mentality for myself about the forthcoming performance. The Shibirarthi-s presentations were held on the concluding day of the Shivir and so I am truly glad that I could end it on such a high!
From this I can say that, doing Japa when you feel anxious really helps to calm your nerves and encourages you to take a different and more open-minded perspective to what you are facing. Nowadays, I look at my mantra-diksha as a match which helps to ignite the fire inside me so it can burn brightly throughout the day. This has helped me to maintain a positive attitude, come what may!
To conclude, I must repeat that I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience in our Math (not to forget the delicious food) and feel as if I have truly made the most of it. I have taken away new friends of all ages, established a new connection with Swamiji, received encouragement to continue learning about my culture, and to gather spiritual knowledge and wisdom to build on. I would love to return to the Math and participate in another Shivir on my next journey to India. I would like to visit our main Math in Shirali too, the schools, and the social projects that we Chitrapur Saraswats are working on under Swamiji’s Guidance.
Though I only scratched the surface during this maiden trip, it has left me wanting to explore more about the Math and take part in more Shivir-s. I thank everyone for the hard work they put in to make my first Shivir experience so very memorable.
Happiness is....discovering your roots!