Reflections on Gurumayi Chidvilasananda

The Power of Perspective

Six years ago, the summer before I began college, I traveled on my own across the country to offer seva at Shree Muktananda Ashram for the very first time. I was filled with great anticipation on the eve of this visit to the Ashram; above all, I treasured the possibility of seeing Gurumayi in person. I had grown up on the Siddha Yoga path, and as a child I had been in Gurumayi’s presence at several retreats my parents took me to in California. I longed to feel connected to Gurumayi in the way I felt then—laughing with her, chanting with her, and being truly seen by her for my true self. Now, I was a young adult who had chosen to walk the Siddha Yoga path. What would it be like to see the Guru again?

A few weeks into this first visit to the Ashram, I received Gurumayi’s darshan with a group of visiting sevites. I felt such joy as I beheld Gurumayi, who was smiling widely and engaging the sevites in lively conversation.

One sevite asked Gurumayi for guidance. She wanted to know how she should cope with the feeling of missing the Guru when they were physically apart.

Gurumayi lovingly replied that in Hindi there is no word that means “to miss.” The closest word translates more accurately to “to think of.” Gurumayi said that this distinction could help us to reframe the longing we feel for the Guru. This is not a sad experience; our longing is an expression of the highest love. And when we miss the Guru, we can turn those feelings into action.

Gurumayi’s words made an immediate impression on me. I was fascinated by how a change in translation could completely change the framing of the situation. As I continued to reflect on Gurumayi’s teaching during my visit, I realized that the longing to be connected with the Guru is, in itself, a connection with her, a connection imbued with divine energy, with shakti. When I missed Gurumayi, it was really a deeper desire to stay in touch with the experience of love that I feel in her presence. I saw that if I could reframe this feeling as motivation to progress in my sadhana, the experience of feeling apart from the Guru would itself bring me closer to the Guru.

Over the years I have transformed my experience of missing Gurumayi by turning to the Siddha Yoga practices when that feeling arises. Chanting is my favorite of the core practices and one of the main ways I feel connected to the Guru, wherever I am in the world. As I chant, I can feel the vibrations of the mantra moving through my body, and this sensation palpably connects me with the Guru.

This past fall I began a PhD program in biology, teaching full time while taking classes and doing research. Adjusting to this new and intense workload challenged me and left me less time to offer seva. I longed to feel connected to my inner Self and to the Guru—yet I did not. To make a concrete effort to reconnect, I set aside a weekend to participate in a Siddha Yoga Shaktipat Intensive. In this Shaktipat Intensive, we were told to be especially aware of the breath. And so, while I chanted, I made an effort to offer each breath to the Guru. As I engaged in this practice, I felt cared for and uplifted by the Guru’s grace. The longing for my Guru that had motivated me to take the Shaktipat Intensive had, ultimately, brought me closer to her through the connection I felt within, as if a fire were reignited. The cloud of malaise I had been under evaporated, and by the end of this Shaktipat Intensive I felt refreshed and empowered to return to my work with the knowledge of the Guru’s presence within me.

Gurumayi’s teaching has also helped me to reframe the feeling of missing loved ones who are far away. Though we keep in touch through texts and video calls, I miss my parents, who now live on the other side of the world. Whenever I miss them, Gurumayi’s teaching inspires me to remember that thinking of them is, in itself, a connection with them—and I put this feeling into action. Rather than sinking into a sense of absence and lack, I express my love for my parents by living my life to its fullest, performing my worldly dharma, and sharing my love with the people around me.

As I reflect on Gurumayi’s teaching, the greatest insight I have received is that we have the power to shift our mindset about any experience—something I can apply again and again in my life. I have found I can positively impact the outcome of any situation in which I am a participant, simply by making the effort to reframe my perspective.

Recently, I was preparing a midterm exam for the two sections I teach in a large introductory course. On the first exam date, classes were canceled due to bad weather but with the expectation that they continue as normal the following day. A student from my second section emailed me, asking that I reschedule their exam as well. I told him this wouldn’t be possible, but he persisted, sending me repeated emails late into the evening without giving the reasons for his request. I became frustrated and felt I was being harassed by a difficult student.

My mother and I spoke on the phone that evening, and I told her about what was happening. She suggested that a shift in perspective might help me bring compassion to the situation. My mother’s choice of words—speaking of a shift of perspective—reminded me of Gurumayi’s teaching, and I was determined to put it into effect by entering the new day with an attitude of open-mindedness.

The next day during the exam, I observed the class very closely. Another student informed me that he and many others—including the young man who had emailed me—had come directly from a difficult exam in another class. I could see that these students were hunched over their work, their brows furrowed, some even shaking with nervous energy. I realized then that this student’s emails had been driven not by malice but by fear.

Once my perspective shifted, my anger melted away and was replaced by compassion. I had a strong desire to give these students a gesture of encouragement and comfort. There happened to be raspberries on the lab bench for a question on plant structure. So, I spontaneously paused the exam to announce that students could come up at any time and eat a raspberry. There was palpable shift in the room, as if a pressure valve had been released. Even with such a small gesture, the students began to relax and smile, and I saw lightness and appreciation in their eyes. We had gone from a “teacher-versus-student” conflict to people appreciating each other’s good intention and working toward the same goal.

I am so grateful that six years ago, on the eve of adulthood and a new chapter of my life, Gurumayi gave me this teaching about missing the Guru. In the years since then I have been able to apply that teaching to the specific situation of feeling apart from Gurumayi and to being and feeling apart from others who are dear to me; and I have found a wider application still. I have discovered that in any moment, a gap between people due to physical or emotional distance can be bridged by a shift in our words, a shift in our perspective.

I have enormous gratitude for the active role Gurumayi plays in my life as my spiritual teacher. Regardless of whether or not I am in her physical presence, she guides me with her teachings, and I am able to learn and grow as a person.

 

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