When I reflect on the most significant practice in my Siddha Yoga sadhana, the very first thing that emerges in my consciousness is: darshan. From 1991 to 2003, I offered full-time seva on staff in Shree Muktananda Ashram and on Gurumayi’s Teaching Visits in India, Europe, Mexico, and the United States. Almost every day there was a satsang with Gurumayi which was attended by thousands of devotees and new seekers. One of the main elements of the satsang was receiving Gurumayi's darshan. This was my favorite practice, especially because I had the privilege of offering seva during darshan.
Darshan means to be in the presence of a great being. On the Siddha Yoga path I have learned that darshan happens in the heart. This has also been my experience. In fact, my experience of coming forward to Gurumayi's chair and receiving Gurumayi’s grace directly from her person has only strengthened my awareness of Gurumayi's presence in my own heart.
During darshan, people from all walks of life would come forward and pranam to Gurumayi, offering their gratitude for having received her teachings and blessings. Some would ask Gurumayi a question while others would pranam in silence. At times the line was so long that darshan would continue for hours on end—four hours, six hours, eight hours! Gurumayi was as loving, compassionate, and present with the very last person as she was with the very first. Sometimes ten or twelve people would come before Gurumayi at once, and yet she connected with each one of them in a personal way. Sometimes Gurumayi would bless devotees with a brush from her wand of peacock feathers. Seekers who were visiting for the first time would be introduced during darshan. Each interaction was unique and perfect for each person's sadhana in that moment. The darshan assistants would sit by Gurumayi's side and help with the many interactions taking place between Gurumayi and her devotees.
At the age of seventeen I was both a darshan assistant and the supervisor for all the assistants. In both roles, I focused intently on doing my best. However, the harder I tried to “do my best,” the more nervous and out of sync I would become. This would result in my missing Gurumayi's cues, not understanding people's questions to Gurumayi, and not being able to give clear direction to the assistants. Instead of feeling that I was offering seva, I would feel like I was an obstacle.
One evening I made a resolution to pay greater attention to Gurumayi's talk during the satsang. In that satsang, Gurumayi taught about the power of the mantra Om Namah Shivaya. Gurumayi said that the mantra has the power to purify all thoughts, words, and actions.
This teaching spoke directly to my heart. I felt that the mantra could help me to be at ease and in the present moment during seva. So I started to put this teaching into practice.
While offering seva, I would pause, take a breath for a moment, and mentally repeat
Om Namah Shivaya. Before an interaction, I would remember Om Namah Shivaya. Before speaking, I would first say to myself, Om Namah Shivaya.
Lo and behold! It only took a moment for me to pause and reflect on the mantra, but as I did so, I started to feel the connection with everyone around me. I began to realize that I was part of the magical flow of the shakti. I was moving, speaking, and acting from a place of love and profound stillness. My mind was very alert and tranquil at the same time. Since I was now present in the moment, I began to understand Gurumayi's requests of me without delay—she could make a subtle gesture and I knew what was being asked of me. These moments of alertness and tranquility continued to increase, and I was able to offer seva with the awareness that I was a true support to Gurumayi and the people coming for darshan.
I shared my experience with the other sevites on the darshan team, and we started to meditate on the mantra together before seva each morning. As we continued this practice, we began to offer seva together with greater harmony. It felt like the most beautifully choreographed dance: we would move gracefully and speak kindly, anticipating who needed help, and understanding each other's roles and responsibilities.
One day after darshan, Gurumayi told me that she had noticed that I was more at ease while offering seva and that all the darshan assistants I was supervising were working well together.
I was so happy to hear Gurumayi say this and I was delighted to tell Gurumayi about our practice of meditating on the mantra. She listened intently, looking at me with so much love, and then she gave me a knowing smile. Gurumayi had been right there with me in every moment.
Now, twenty years later, I continue this practice of remembering the mantra in my daily life. What a gift from Gurumayi! I cherish this gift to this day.
In 2005 I was certified as a hatha yoga teacher. What I had learned as a darshan assistant so many years ago is still very pertinent to my life now, as a teacher living in Ireland. Every time I silently repeat the mantra Om Namah Shivaya before I speak, my words are infused with love and kindness. Every time I silently repeat Om Namah Shivaya before I begin my classes, I feel uplifted. Through this practice, I have seen how others relate to me with respect and understanding.
Any moment spent with Gurumayi yields fruit beyond measure. I feel so blessed that I have had the privilege to spend so many hours offering seva in darshan. My intention is that I will be able to share this invaluable gift with everyone I come in contact with.