Reflections on Gurumayi Chidvilasananda

Reflecting the Light

Gurumayi’s teachings have consistently brought light and clarity to my life and spiritual practices. So often, I hear or read a teaching and feel like Gurumayi wrote it especially for me!  Such was the case with Gurumayi’s talk “Step Forward and Be the Light” from her book Courage and Contentment. I read this very soon after it was published in 1999.

Speaking about facing difficult interactions, Gurumayi says:

At such moments, allow your own pure wisdom to shine forth. Instead of waiting for the other person to shower you with light, you step forward and be the light.1

At the time I read this teaching, I didn’t like the way I was responding to challenging situations at work and with my family. Gurumayi’s teaching inspired me to be more proactive with my co-workers and family. I also began to reflect on two questions: What is this light we are meant to be? and How can I step forward and be this light?

This reflection brought to mind the first time I perceived light coming from a human being. It happened during a visit to offer seva in Shree Muktananda Ashram during the late 1990s. I had been meditating in the Bhagavan Nityananda Temple, and there was a feeling of lightness in my heart as I left the Temple. I turned to greet another Siddha Yogi, who was also leaving, and to my amazement I saw light emanating from her skin. When I said, “There’s light coming from your face,” she said, “There’s light coming from you, too!”

From this experience, I drew two conclusions: first, the light that Gurumayi speaks about is not just metaphorical but is also perceptible, and, second, spiritual practices like meditation, chanting, and having the darshan of a great being—as I did in the Temple with Bade Baba—make the light of the Self more perceptible in us as well as to us.

For me Gurumayi embodies this light of the Self, both in the metaphorical sense of illuminating the great spiritual truths and in a more literal sense. She really does radiate light that we can both perceive and feel. On a recent visit to offer seva in Shree Muktananda Ashram, I saw Gurumayi for the first time in several years. In that moment I felt as if rays of light radiating from her entered every cell in my body, and my mind became completely still. Gurumayi is the light!

Through close readings of Shri Guru Gita and other sacred texts, I understand this light to be prakasha—the light of the Self that both manifests as and illumines the world. What I have found most powerful about Gurumayi’s talk in Courage and Contentment is that when she tells us to “be the light,” she is inviting us to be the Supreme Self that is our very nature.

In her talk Gurumayi makes it clear that her guidance is not about just what we experience in meditation. It is just as much about how we show up in our daily lives.

I see this to mean actively taking steps to uplift difficult situations, even when I might be more comfortable staying quiet and disengaged. It also means looking beyond divisions and difference and remembering the light of the Self and the essential goodness in all people, even in the midst of disagreements. What often works best for me is to remember Gurumayi. I often visualize her in the room with me or remember a teaching of hers.

Recently, I was moderating a debate on a divisive issue. I work as an editor at a community newspaper, and I had written extensively on the topics on which two sides were prepared to debate. As the debaters and I crowded into a small recording studio, I remembered Gurumayi’s teaching.

After the debate had heated up, I took time out to compliment the people on both sides for the depth of their concern for the community we all share. Although they disagreed on how to get there, they all wanted to work toward a better community. In the end, I felt like we were all able to experience light. Despite their divisions, these partisans walked out of the studio in a spirit of friendship.

Once when I was driving, I cut off a pedestrian in a crosswalk. As I passed by, he kicked my car. My first response was anger. Then I thought, No, I shouldn’t have cut him off. I stopped the car, and as I got out, I could see this man recoil, not knowing what to expect. I apologized for cutting him off. He gladly accepted my heartfelt apology and apologized for his conduct as well. After this encounter, my body actually felt lighter, as if a weight had been lifted from my heart. It occurred to me that it’s no accident that the English word for “light” refers to both illumination and the feeling of weightlessness.

What I’ve learned from studying, reflecting on, and putting into practice Gurumayi’s teaching is that when I step forward to bring light to a difficult situation, I am being myself; the light of the Self is who I truly am. By remembering Gurumayi and putting her teachings into practice again and again, I can make this light of the Self manifest in my life and in the world around me.

1Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, Courage and Contentment: A Collection of Talks on Spiritual Life by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda (South Fallsburg, NY: SYDA Foundation, 1999) p. 53.
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