Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Building a Community on the Level of the Heart

A great yogi from another tradition, Yogi Berra (the greatest catcher in baseball history) once said, "If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” I think this happens to many of us, as we float through life without much awareness or purpose. Well, at least that’s how it was for me for most of my early life.
In 1991, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar invited me to live at the Art of Living Foundation’s new international center in Bangalore India, which everyone there referred to as the ashram. Not having much of a clear direction in life, except for my great zeal to grow spiritually, I was off on a grand adventure. Before long, I became the ashram manager, a new position in the startup organization. The only people I had to manage, though, were a cook who had no culinary talent, a bus driver who had no sense of direction, the occasional plumber, and an electrician who charged a lot of money for work half done. The ashram staff consisted of a handful of Western volunteers who where constantly threatening to leave and a few local Indian devotees who came and went whenever they pleased. 
It was frustrating living without a proper staff, telephone service, and basic creature comforts like a hot shower or a comfortable bed. Yet I was lucky to interact with Sri Sri daily and to watch him magically transform barren land into what is now considered one of most flourishing spiritual centers in the world.
Now, twenty years later, I’m still at it. I’m no longer an ashram manager, but I’m at another startup. This time it’s the Art of Living’s International Center for Meditation and Well-Being, in the breathtakingly beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Boone, North Carolina.
Although Brahman, the Supreme Self, is felt throughout the campus, there are still many obstacles to overcome. Not having a clearly defined position, I question why Sri Sri has asked me to live here. How I can contribute?
When I lived at the ashram in India I was more concerned about finding solutions to the physical challenges, but as I ponder my role in Boone my attention is on something subtler — learning the skill of creating a real sense of belonging, creating community.
Everyone at the center has a common bond, of course. We are all on the same spiritual path and committed to sharing a lifestyle that is enriched with human values and knowledge about the Self. Yet everyone has a unique perspective on what this means. If dealt with unconsciously, these differences can sometimes lead to disharmony or conflict. Before you know it, alignments form and politics begins. 
Sri Sri has said, “When belongingness expands to include everyone, spirituality has grown.” For this wonderful spot in Boone or for any local center to become a thriving spiritual oasis, we need to create an environment where the sense of connectedness with each other is stronger than our differences of the moment; where people feel free enough to share and secure enough to get along. Otherwise our community will be limited to just eating meals together, group meditations, and working on service projects. The old ways of immediate self-gratification, personal recognition, and adhering to fixed opinions cannot coexist in an environment where people are committed to building community.
I want to see the same miracle that happened in Bangalore happen in Boone. Not only on the physical level but also on the level of the heart. All that is needed is for each person to be willing to live with a high degree of personal integrity, openness, and vulnerability. It means being sensitive and considerate of other people’s feelings and expanding ones perspective by being open to feedback and being more cooperative with others. And it’s all very possible.
The higher our prana, or life energy, the easier it is to act with this kind of feeling and awareness. So as obvious as it may sound, being regular with meditation and Sudarshan Kriya, eating properly, and all the other things we do that naturally make our prana and energy high are underlying secrets and advantages we can appreciate. 

I’d like to know what skills you’ve used to create more coherence in your community, how it has worked, and what has changed.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Fastest Man

My South Indian wife is more eclectic than traditional. She finds delight in rummaging through antiques to decorate our apartment in what she calls shabby chic. She looks enchanted as she taps her foot to bluegrass music and the blues. Most recently, her obsession has been watching Olympians compete for the gold.

Between the races, we watch the sports casters report about the life of the athletes. Oscar Pistorius, the South African Olympic contender who runs on prosthetic legs, had to overcome many obstacles before the Olympic association would allow him to compete. American weightlifter Sarah Robles was determined just to get to the London Olympics while surviving on a $400-a-month award from USA Weightlifting the group that oversees Olympic weightlifting in the United States. She barely had enough money to eat. I’m touched by their stories, I feel raw and bare.

“Aren’t you going to stay to watch the race? To watch the fastest man in the world?” I enjoy my new life with my wife, the many flavors, what we share. I want to stay and watch, but I don’t.

It’s not a lack of interest in the superhuman ability of Usain Bolt as he speeds across the finish line that causes me to shrug my shoulders and retire to another room. Nor is it the rekindled feelings of inadequacy I had during my childhood for not being very coordinated or athletic. The constant teasing from the other kids forced me to shy away from almost all organized or competitive sports. I feel self-reflective as I watch these athletes compete. I need some time to be alone, to go within. 

Not disturbed by the muffled sounds of cheering crowds from the TV my wife watches in the other room, I huddle behind my computer screen. It has been a long time since I have attempted to write. I doubt my abilities. I’ve been in a slump for a while now. “I have too many responsibilities,” “I just got married,” “My stars aren’t right,” were some of the excuses that played in my head. I allowed fear to overshadow me too long. It turns out that what I write is not so important. The act of typing itself opens possibilities for creativity to flow. It’s like winning a race; I feel enthusiastic, fresh, and alive.

It’s only a few paragraphs, but I’m pleased. The experience is sweet; a sense of surrender, being present. The Big Mind is in control again. I’m reminded that my life is for others and that we are one and the same. 

My Guru once told me that the Divine orchestrates the experiences we go through in life so others can learn, be inspired, and forge ahead. It seems like it doesn’t matter if you are committed to winning a marathon or just taking a few baby step to get started again.