“Can I invite another center to join us for the Gathering at Hollyhock?” asked Swami Dhumavati while I was at Kashi Ashram earlier this year. “Absolutely!” I replied, always curious to discover new places. “I met Swami Lalitananda last November when we attended the Parliament of World Religions in Toronto,” she continued. “She’s from Yasodhara Ashram in B.C. Canada.” The Parliament had a powerful theme and these two ashrams were clearly aligned. Several lineage centers joined the Gathering and later formed a strong focus group to support each other in their similarities and challenges.
Yasodhara was established in 1963 by Swami Sivananda Radha and is a strong spiritual community. However many of the resident swami’s are ageing and they felt the need to engage strategic consultants to develop their vision for the future. They were being encouraged to reach out to other centers and the timing of the Gathering was clearly perfect.
Swami Lalitananda serves as the Spiritual Director and her calm presence was a beautiful contribution to the Gathering. Afterwards Swami Dhumavati travelled back with her for a few days, keen to experience another ashram before returning home to Kashi in Florida. A few months later I followed in her footsteps delighted to discover our partners Retreat Guru in Nelson, B.C. and Yasodhara are on opposite sides of the Kootenay Lake, and I could easily combine a visit to both and connect with The Sentinel as a neighbour too!
We all hold an incredibly welcoming and supportive space for participants in our holistic centers and sometimes we need to give ourselves that very same gift and rest and renew ourselves. The Professional Renewal Retreat offered by Yasodhara is a wonderful offering. Who could resist the invitation to; Immerse yourself in a focused, reflective environment to revitalize yourself, and bring new focus to a project’?
The renewal retreats offer a choice of accommodations and the option of either two or four hours of karma yoga each day. Creek Cabin is a cozy log cabin by the creek with a lake view and is the perfect place for a reading or writing retreat. Immersed in nature at the foot of the mountains, surrounded by trees and overlooking the lake it offers nourishment for the soul in simple comfort. Three healthy meals are served each day in the silence of the dining room. After a week in China and listening to continuous translation I needed hours of silence to re-balance. Meals can so often be a time of social interaction and yet to eat mindfully in quiet contemplation can be a precious gift of self care and spiritual practice.
Yoga is offered each morning at 6:50am and I was grateful there was no pressure to attend as I gently adjusted to the time difference and a few long flights. After breakfast the community would gather outside, practice the ‘Divine Mother prayer’, a beautiful standing prayer of flowing mudras, review the mornings tasks and then fan out in quiet commitment to the daily running of the ashram.
I felt blessed to be assigned to the garden and embraced the rows of kale in need of weeding! Aliya welcomed all the karma yogas with a smile and found different tasks for us day by day. For the duration of my stay the kale patch become my little area of stewardship, simultaneously weeding the inner garden, creating more space for the plant/soul to grow into fullness. Some days I would harvest and deliver the vibrant produce to the kitchen ready for the next delicious meal. The rest of the day was then free time for personal projects or practice, reading, contemplating, sitting on the beach or in one of the prayer rooms.
After dinner the community gathers for evening satsang in the Temple of Light. An architectural masterpiece that would be at home in Barcelona or Bilbao, it was completed just over a year ago to replace the original temple built in 1992 and sadly destroyed by fire 22 years later. The fire happened just weeks after Swami Lalitananda stepped into her leadership role and she was faced with a huge challenge; to create a temporary meeting place and fundraise for the replacement.
The new temple beautifully expresses the spirit of the community and is a beacon of light and inspiration. Swami Radha had dreamt of an eight petalled temple as a child, ‘a beautiful white domed building that looked out over water and was surrounded by mountains.’ Representing the different spiritual traditions all meeting in the center, this essence is carried forth in the modern structure that integrates seamlessly with the surrounding nature. The sacred space is dedicated to the Light within each one of us and every day we practiced the Divine Light Invocation, chanted in kirtan, shared daily reflections on life and sat in silent prayer.
After years as a resident co-worker in the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland I felt a deep resonance with the Network of Light as described by our founders, the linking up of centers around the world dedicated to transforming ourselves to transform the world. Arriving at Kashi Ashram in Florida last December it felt only natural to discover Kashi means ‘City of Light’. An interfaith community established by Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati in 1976, it’s a City of Light within the Network of Light. Several months later Yasodhara seemed to complete the trinity with the Temple of Light.
There are photos in the archives of Eileen and Peter Caddy, two of the founders of Findhorn, visiting Yasodhara in the 1970s, as they strengthened the Network of Light on their travels. Peter Caddy believed in the power of synthesis and how each center has something we can learn from one another. This spirit continues with HCN and we’re all blessed by the pioneers of the 60s and 70s who created these centers and all those who continue to serve them today. May we all enjoy times of rest and renewal along the way.