This winter morning I chant my mantra in darkness lit only by a small altar light reflecting on the image of Tara, bodhisattva of compassion. Her golden body shines in the intricate inner heaven of the shrine.
She smiles a little enigmatically. And though She looks meditative and at peace, those extra eyes on her hands, feet and forehead convey vigilant awareness. She reminds me to be awake and to generate compassion rather than try to worry my way through my current challenges or the daunting problems in our world like wars, pandemics and climate change.
I am chanting the healing mantra, listening to the tones of my voice, observing the exhalation that carries the vibrations. I am asking for help to clear my mind and be fully present with the sounds.
This morning I am offering the vibrations to specific people: a dedicated Yasodhara teacher with dementia; two strong women waiting for diagnoses regarding cancer; a colleague who joined her daughter and son-in-law overseas as he faces an illness that threatens to cut his life short; and a courageous Indigenous woman dedicated to justice for her people.
It feels like I need divine assistance because these issues are beyond my control. I need to trust this power of compassion, whatever the outcome.
When I think back to my own beginnings with the Ashram, I, too, came in need of compassionate assistance. It was a time of heartbreak and helplessness.
I had some glimmers about what could help. I knew that my dreams were important, for example. I had been writing them down for years and looking at them as a mystery, but with a message I did not know how to decipher.
The first Ashram workshop I attended was on interpreting dreams, and it was like being given a key to a locked door that held treasures. Each symbol was packed with my meanings, and as I opened those doors and held gently what was inside, insight would arise.
I was opening a door to myself, to another layer of mind. And that unconscious level was honest and willing to speak with me, to offer direction.
That was the start–safe, because I was the one who created my dream. I didn’t have to trust someone else. From this beginning I saw that the teachings were not something I needed to believe in, but were tools that could help reveal myself to myself. And there was more to me than I thought—a knowing part.
Swami Radha developed workshops like Lifeseals because she knew that as Westerners we wouldn’t trust someone else to point out our traps or to tell us what to do. We needed to do it ourselves.
The simple process of drawing with crayons images that represent our senses, mind, essence, strengths and weaknesses, then putting it all together is surprising in its power to reveal. The unconscious speaks through colours, space, arrangement.
My first Life Seal came alive for me. Seeing the balance of positive and negative, seeing the beauty of my essence, seeing the patterns my mind created, and even hearing my words–fear, caution, curiosity –they all fed back and expanded my understanding of how I was creating my life.
And I realized that I have power of choice—a mighty power. Which way did I want my life to go?
Commitment was another key. In my early days I preferred not to commit because I wanted all possibilities to remain open. Maybe it is a typical youthful folly, although I see the youth of today as so much wiser than I ever was.
But once I understood that if I wanted to go toward the Light or invite the higher part of me to come forward, I had to listen and follow and stick to the inner direction. Once I saw that the tools worked–chanting, Divine Light Invocation, reflection, dreams–I stayed with them. I kept on going.
And I stayed with the one who had opened the doors, my spiritual teacher, Swami Radha—the one who inspired me by showing that there is a way; the one who cared so much that she did what she could to stop me from creating my own pain.
I loved her and her method of questioning. She never thought she had all the answers. She was curious about everything–how physics understands the universe, how each person responds and reacts.
She used to say that we all have our quirks but that is not what is important to the Divine. We need understanding for each other. We need to accept that we all have our human frailties and our particular family backgrounds and cultures that shaped us.
Now, forty-four years after my shakey beginning and 60 years after Swami Radha founded this place, I am in the surprising position of helping to hold the Ashram alongside a devoted and thriving community as it continues to serve and evolve.
We are here for a reason—held by teachings that help us dig deeply into ourselves, to dive into the ocean of light to find the jewel. We explore our inner worlds, opening to the unknown. We question. We do our best to serve selflessly, to love, to give.
Much of our work is to open and listen to the stories of the people who come. With sixty years of spiritual practice, we have created a space where people can unburden and fill the empty places with Light.
There is a sense of safety that allows healing to happen—not by our great powers as teachers, but by being humble enough to understand that we can never know a person’s whole story or a culture’s lived experience. We empathize and offer tools.
We listen with Light, care and love. We encourage relaxation in the body and focus in the mind, and allow the heart to enter its pain and joy.
Each evening when we gather in the Temple, our voices blend and rise together for those who are in need and for those who have asked for our prayers. There is something beautiful in turning over their concerns to this higher power.
We are so human and our voices are not perfect. But those who are receptive respond to our intention anyway.
We channel Light to them as best we can. And as we offer, we receive.
Later this morning, as I emerge from my mantra practice and step outside I am reminded of how our community and all that we offer is supported by a life-giving environment, completely immersed in the beauty of nature.
I love this land. I love to walk by the lake, to wander the forest, and to learn about the plants, animals and birds who share their space with us. It is renewing and energizing for my mind to let go and just be present in the silence and seasons of the forest, the ever changing light and movement of the lake.
I have been saturated with so many blessings that they need to overflow.
OM TARA, thank you for this path and this place.
Profound gratitude to Swami Radha whose dynamic creativity remains vibrantly alive at Yasodhara Ashram sixty years later. And to Swami Radhananda who followed and carried this Light steadily through a lifetime. And to all those who support this work and are part of it.
Let’s keep going!
President of Yasodhara Ashram