Opening Doors in the New Year

1 Jan

Happy 2018!  Well, time is rolling along and I can hardly recall where 2017 has gone. It’s fun for me to remember that while it’s 2018 for many of us, in Thailand it’s the year 2561 with a calendar based on the Buddha!  That was one thing that traveling always offered me… just when you thought a thing was “so” – it gave you an opportunity or experience to see that it just wasn’t the case.

I am here in Hendersonville somewhat bundled up with the chilly air outside.  It’s been a satisfying and at times quiet holiday season for me. While in some ways I am used to spending the holidays on my own with my years of traveling abroad, I find I tend to approach this season a bit tenuously not always sure what to do with myself  and in some ways just doing my best to “make it through” until it comes around next year. This year it’s been a pretty nice balance of connection and independence and I am grateful for both.

Last week I took just a couple of days to visit the Art of Living Center in Boone, NC to spend some time with the head of the organization, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. I first stumbled upon the Art of Living in post-Katrina New Orleans as they were there offering courses to support the community in the aftermath of the storm. Something about the energy of the organization caught my attention. I attended an information session to learn more and when the wife of a favorite minister joined the session as an experienced participant with the group, I knew I was in the right place.

I took their foundation course called the The Art of Happiness and their practice called the Sudarshan Kriya quickly became part of my morning routine. In the craze and aftermath of life post-Katrina, I took a little refuge in the peaceful feeling of this organization and periodically attended their evening long Kriya’s, gatherings and service opportunities.

That was over ten years ago. Since then I’ve been fortunate to stay connected with the organization and the practice. I’ve connected and practiced with local groups while traveling including Vienna and Kansas City.  To my amazement and delight, I was also able to attend their World Culture Festival in Berlin in 2011 while I was staying in Wettenbostel, Germany.

Sri Sri has brought yoga, meditation and practical wisdom to millions of people in over 150 countries. I was encouraged by a trusted friend to take their second flagship course, Art of Silence, in their European Center in Bad Antogast, Germany in 2014.  This was an opportunity not just to grow further spiritually through the framework of this course, but also to meet and share a little space with Sri Sri who would be at the European Center for a few days of the course.

Since that experience in Germany, I keep in mind that it’s a good idea not to miss an opportunity to be in Sri Sri’s presence and that is why I headed for Boone over the holidays.

Sri Sri was in Boone teaching an advanced course to students who had taken at least eight Art of Silence Courses (I have taken one) and have practiced with him for many years. The evenings were open to the public for chanting and an address from Sri Sri and that is where I fit in.

When I first arrived, making my may up the windy roads to this somewhat secluded mountain escape, who do I see walking solo down the road but a small Indian man.  Is that….?  I thought… and sure enough it was… it was Sri Sri walking down the road apparently taking some respite from the intense teachings of the day. What do I do?  Uncertain… I slowed down, rolled down my window, waved and said “hello!”…

At first, it was a bit of culture shock seeing this tiny spiritual man dressed in robes coming straight from the throws of more regular American life. But it was a good reminder to shift… to turn the dial just a bit and take things in a little differently.

With over 1000 students attending this course, I joined the busy dining hall for a modest meal of Indian fare, rice and dessert.  I sat with a few folks participating in the class who have been long-time students of Sri Sri.  They talked of spending time with him over 25 years ago at the simple Ashram in India and noting the many differences and shifts in their life since then.  I also met a woman who lives in Asheville, also a long-time student of Sri Sri, and a great reminder of some of the benefits of these practices in the long-term including a youthful spirit and demeanor.

Then I headed to the large meditation hall where I joined the 1000 plus participants as well as other guests, friends and family. Sri Sri eventually came and took his place seated on the stage up front. He didn’t speak for long, but his simple and refreshing words were a great reminder to me about this whole thing called life. He started by asking us to imagine all of the conversations we’ve had, thought, participated in, watched on tv… and then to imagine that we were separate from that.  And to consider that all of that, this changing world of conversation, beliefs and opinions, can distract us from experiencing the unfathomable joy and beauty found in our inner depths. He encouraged meditation as an important tool on this journey. All in all, he just reminded me that half the things I was worried about, considering, trying to figure out were in many ways distractions from the very opportunity he was talking about.

I left from my time there reminded of this. Of course I still think too much, still need to make life decisions and don’t always know what to do… but this simple message and his presence reminded me to continue to explore opening a door just beyond on all that… and that journey is always available to me no matter what I may or may not choose to do in this life…

And so, here I am, trying to enter a bit more gently and mindfully into 2018.  Sometimes gracefully, sometimes less so. Trying to not take all the conversations in my head and with others too seriously.  And just taking it from there.

Here’s wishing you a little extra dose of peace, happiness and well-being this New Year!  And may we all find that little door within us, in our own time and own way, that opens us up to greater gifts of joy, wisdom, peace, freedom and happiness!