On February 10, during her first visit to Ireland, University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland’s leading and largest university, hosted Brahmacharini Shobana, an award winning yoga practitioner and teacher who has dedicated her life as a monastic in Amma’s ashram to the pursuit of authentic yoga.
Under Amma’s guidance, Shobana has been the director of AMRITA YOGA® since 2004. Having taught more than 3000 workshops, classes and retreats worldwide, she specializes in bridging the gap between the ancient traditional Eastern practice and the practical needs of yoga in the West. Shobana’s dedication to Yoga teaching has been recognized in multiple forums. Her talk, Yoga – Stretching the Mind, Not Just the Body: Applying meditation techniques in everyday life to reduce anxiety and increase wellbeing, was delivered at the Quinn School of Business.
To an audience of about a hundred students, university staff and community members, Shobana explained how meditation can wondrously transform your life. Her lively and engaging talk drew rapt attention, several members engaging her in a dialogue afterwards on the practical and philosophical aspects of yoga.
Shobha, Senthil, Poornima, and I were warmly met by Professor Jacob Eisenberg from the School of Business in UCD. He had kindly arranged this talk and introduced Shobana to the gathering. He told how he had met Amma when he was travelling in India, and how deeply he had been impressed by her selfless service and that of those around her. He now assists Amma’s programs in Dublin.
Shobha began by inviting us to center ourselves with the chanting of the sacred syllable Om. There were three truths, she said, she lived by:
- Happiness is a decision.
- You can make your mind a friend (to unwind from entanglement) or a foe (that creates obstacles).
- The true state of meditation is to free us in our lives, a state of absolute freedom.
Her talk interlaced these three truths from her practice and experience. She told how as a young girl she had been not so happy for an underlying reason and just wanted to die. Even her love for her beloved sister wasn’t enough to change that feeling. The life she saw around her was intolerable. She yearned for some deeper heart connection and release from the disturbance of her mind. Isolated by her despair, her parents deemed her unwell. They sent her on a 10-day vacation with her English teacher to determine whether she was of sound mind. She returned home certified as normal.
By night she would gaze at the stars, worshipping their ineffable beauty. How could she ever fathom it? Then it struck her. The innumerable stars were like the myriad thoughts in her own mind. They could never be resolved. All she could do was witness them. And in that thought lay freedom. She was not her thoughts. She was indeed the Witness. Her meditation was of the nature of the Self. She had stumbled upon the supreme goal of Yoga.
Shobana asked “What is the Mind?” and offered the definition from her master, Amma. “A few thoughts don’t make the mind. The mind is filled with innumerable thoughts. A few trees don’t make a forest. Forest is filled with innumerable trees.
We crave things because we are missing something deeper. We have an innate sense of the loss of who we really are. We all want peace and love. Who, in his right mind, has ever signed up for a violence retreat? We all need to be recognized, loved and seen. Amma says, it is love that brings peace. We are all craving for this experience.
Awareness of our latent tendencies is what helps us to free ourselves from them. Amma has said that the first thought is not ours, but the succeeding ones are. We must choose our thoughts wisely. Success in meditation requires diligent practice. We come to crave that high state of continuous peace and freedom from thought.
Each one of us crave deep within to experience the divinely ordained purpose of our lives. Every effort we make with this correct understanding will support each of our actions towards that purpose or goal. When we have an urgent need, we will act and not postpone or forgo. It is when we are driven by an urgent need that we will do what we must. Just like a pregnant woman who is always aware of the wellbeing of the baby in her womb, we must act with care and focus on all our actions.
Consciousness is the changeless substratum that exists at all times. Only a highly focused mind with such awareness can relate to the consciousness that is unchanging. Awareness of each breath is a simple technique that helps us to build our focus and supports us to witness all that happens in the process.
Stillness and dynamism coexist. The art of spontaneity, in the flow, infinite creativity and dynamism is from that vastness, the inner space which scriptures refer to as the Chidakasha. Meditation is the process to experience this vastness.
The process of meditation is the awareness of thoughts. It is the process of moving away from the mind, from thoughts and moving into a state of stillness. A process of moving away from our latent tendencies, unwind, undo, unlearn to a state of equanimity. It is the supreme art of moving through life impeccably. Meditation is an experience. An ongoing practice towards that absolute state is what we need to focus in our lives to free ourselves, to experience absolute freedom.
It is important to develop a deeply reflective mind. This is different from mere processing. It is about being responsible, assessing choices and risks, and independently making decisions guided by a noble purpose. It is about radically taking charge of your own life.
As you become more aware of useless thoughts, you start prioritizing on what you need, your urgent need. You make your choices. The right choices with the right understanding. In such a focused mind, naturally thoughts don’t appear and spontaneously you return to your primary imperative. Like watching the night sky can never bring us closer to any star but the light emanated beyond their identity. You relate to the substratum, the unchanging that is beneath all these and learn to relax. The process requires infinite patience and continuous effort. No one ever got to God-realization without crossing the illimitable tracts of the wasteland.
It was wonderful to see how Shobana demonstrated her own teaching, brilliantly fielding questions, and graciously dovetailing her answers from one person to another. Her attunement was utterly remarkable. This was such an enlightening experience for me. I’ve always yearned for this pliant and disarmed human contact, so safe and loving; so sensitive to other human beings; that we should not be mere robots, programmed, defensive and protective; that we be allowed to have hearts and interact in such a fascinating way.
When the talk came to a close, Jacob kindly thanked her. Shobana’s talk had lasted for an hour and a half, and we had been completely absorbed by it.
Her presentation ended with a brief guided meditation. The big room was calm and quiet. Several people stayed after to discuss various issues with her. The visit ended with a small, informal gathering over tea and snacks, along with members from the local Amma group.
Our dear friend, Mags Fitzgerald paid a quick visit, and then Shobana, Poornima, Senthil, Sudesh and Showled, and Jacob and I all got together afterwards for coffee and conversation. Showled had never seen anything like this before and was completely bowled over by it. She wasn’t the only one! The sheer peace that we all felt was just stunningly beautiful. And I am still feeling it! It was even felt by our Amma group in our home!
Shobana has taught me how to be myself. Her strong, beautiful and loving example got me reflecting that I can be that way too; all it takes is the decision! Thank you, ShobhaJi!
And thank you, Amma! I love that You are such a constant in my life and that I am in deep connection with You. Thank you so sincerely, from the depths of my heart.