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Devin Biviano has been coming to the Ashram for almost twenty years. He recently completed the Rotary Peace Fellowship at the University of Queensland in Australia, where he was working and studying in the field of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution. He reflects on how his time at the Ashram has informed his study of peace, both professionally and personally.
How did you first hear about the Ashram?
I consider myself to be one of the lucky people who was exposed to the Ashram at a very young age. When I was about 10 or 11, my mom practiced at the Yasodhara Yoga Centre in Spokane and she would often bring me to class. It was there that she heard about the Ashram’s Teen Program and sent me up here for the program in 1997 when I was 15.
As a teenager I had a lot of energy that I didn’t know how to channel. At the Ashram I found myself feeling calm and focused in a way that I didn’t know was possible. I remember going out with a group of young people and building a trail through the forest. When I walk on that trail now I’m still excited to think that a teenager helped to build it. It’s one of the many different ways I was able to find healthy, productive uses of my energy.
The Teen Program gave me a sense of confidence and capability, which led to me applying for a student exchange scholarship to Germany. My Ashram experience prepared me for the study-abroad program; it gave me some maturity, communication skills and an ability to look at my life. I immediately found myself using many of the practices I’d learned at the Ashram, especially journaling and the relaxation technique. I saw how what I learned was really applicable to the outside world.
What led you back to the Ashram?
In my late twenties I was struggling, as many young people do. I also went through a series of health issues from a bicycle accident and needed a place to support my healing while still being engaged in my own life. So I came to the Ashram for the Young Adult Program. What was remarkable was that not only did I receive the support of the Ashram but also of my medical team. I was seeing a number of specialists and they told me that if all their patients could come to a place like this, it would change the world. By the end of six weeks, I got the clearance to return to full normal activity. I don’t think I would have healed so quickly without the Ashram.
What led to your decision to take the Yoga Development Course?
While I was here for the Young Adult Program in 2010, I observed the final week of the three-month Yoga Development Course (YDC). I was inspired to hear the stories of the participants, each of whom spoke about how transformative it was, and wondered what it was that made them feel so transformed. I then moved to Sweden to begin a Master’s Program in Peace Studies. But when I got there I had this sense of being in the wrong place. Something in me was saying, What about other options? So I reflected and realized that the YDC was a different sort of Masters program. It was an opportunity to grow, not just personally, but also academically and professionally. So I felt I needed to transfer to a different type of school.
What was your experience of the YDC?
I enrolled in the YDC 2011, did the teacher training and stayed on for five months to do Karma Yoga, which far exceeded any expectations I had for an eight-month experience. To this day, I consider it the best decision I’ve ever made, as none of the opportunities that followed would have been possible without it. The hardest part is explaining to people who haven’t been to the Ashram how I benefitted professionally and academically from my experience. During this time, I was able to clarify that my primary passions and interests revolved around international relations, humanitarian issues, and of course peace, a topic I have been involved in since childhood in various ways.
What did you encounter when you left the Ashram? Were there challenges, victories?
Shortly after leaving the Ashram, I was accepted into the Rotary Peace Fellowship scholarship program. The program is an effort to help make the world a more peaceful place by investing in individuals engaged in peace work. From 2014 to 2015 I studied at the University of Queensland, in Brisbane, Australia, as part of class of twelve Peace Fellows. I looked at everything from theoretical analyses of international relations to practical field experiences in dialogue, education, intercultural interactions and genocide prevention. I finished my studies with an advanced Master’s Degree in Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution.
One of the things that I focused on in my academic work was cultivating peace internally while cultivating peace externally, and the ways they are similar. I was able to integrate my interest in yoga with my academic research, which was incredibly rewarding and fruitful. This synthesis allowed me to open up whole new layers to the yogic concept of ‘personal responsibility’, which I had associated more with negative ideas, such as “I am responsible for all of my bad decisions.” But by focusing on inner peace, within the context of attempting to understand protracted and often devastating international conflict, I saw the importance of taking responsibility for my more positive decisions, too. And through that process I became aware that the world is not just a bad place full of conflict and war, but also a place full of beauty and hope and tireless efforts towards peace that should be acknowledged, discussed and valued. So by observing my own efforts to cultivate my inner sense of peace, which is challenging and rewarding and humbling in itself, I’ve become much more sensitive to, and compassionate towards, external conflicts as well, from my own family to the global stage.
What are your current hopes and dreams?
Now that I have my master’s degree, much of my time and energy has been freed up for other pursuits. Between my academic training, and the practices of the Ashram, I feel confident that I can engage in my life, and the world, in a whole new way. For now, I plan to pursue professional and volunteer opportunities in Australia, where I’m enjoying seeing the world from a different perspective, literally and also culturally and politically. I’d like to focus on refugee asylum-seeker advocacy, which is a major issue in the world right now, and hope to continue my work in crisis management, genocide prevention research, and mediation – not to mention the teachings of the Ashram.
If someone were thinking about coming to the Ashram, what would you say to them?
I’d first tell them not to overthink it. The worst thing that’s going to happen at the Ashram is that you’re going to see a beautiful place, eat great food and sleep really well. The best scenario is you will discover some profound things about yourself, others and the world. The Ashram is such a welcoming place for anyone to come and explore. That doesn’t mean that everyone will come for the same amount of time or connect in the same way. But to experience it without any major commitment or anxiety, is a gift. People can come here who don’t know exactly where to start or which path they might feel most comfortable with. They wouldn’t be the first to have their lives transformed by it. And that’s a pretty special and unique experience in the world.
“By observing my own efforts to cultivate my inner sense of peace, which is challenging and rewarding and humbling in itself, I’ve become much more sensitive to, and compassionate towards, external conflicts as well, from my own family to the global stage.”