Last Saturday, I entered the Long Beach convention center about 2 hours before the Isha Foundation’s Shambhavi mahamudhra program was to start, feeling confident that I was very early for the check-in process. I entered the lobby and gasped as I saw what looked like hundreds of people standing in line. The volunteer usher smiled with her hands folded and said – “Namaste, please walk to the end of the line right there.” And, as I walked all the way to the very end of the line, I saw young and old – people from all races – standing in line with yoga mats and cushions in their hands, waiting in line. Registration completed, I pinned my name tag to my shirt and headed into the cavernous convention center to take a place, waiting for the program to start.
The Inner Engineering program conducted by the Isha Foundation led by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev was a revelation in the ways in which a modern Indian mystic reaches followers in America with a blend that combines spirituality, folk wisdom, and advice from a life coach. Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev has thousands of followers across the globe drawn from all nationalities – people who have been drawn to the movement through his active use of YouTube videos and talks.
Participants at the Inner Engineering weekend program had completed a 7-part online program before coming to the retreat. The program began with a series of preliminary exercises that we practiced with a teacher before Sadhguru addressed the gathering. His advice to the thousands of participants was to work on being open and receptive to receive the training in Shambhavi mahamudhra the next day. He gave the analogy of what one does while planting a seed. He told the audience that when dreaming about having flowers, there is no point in constantly thinking about flowers. Instead, one needs to worry about the seed, the manure, soil, water and sunshine needed to nurture the seed.
The next morning, once the preliminary practices were done, and after partaking a light, nutritious breakfast, Sadhguru entered and urged the participants to think of themselves as change makers focused on moving forward with love in their hearts. The playing of the song, “Alai, alai,” by the talented musicians from Isha present in the hall rose to a crescendo and the whole audience was up on their feet dancing in abandon.
The lyrics of the Tamil song with meanings are given at this link.
After the song was played, Sadhguru spoke to the audience in his charismatic fashion talking of the angst of everyone to seek something that lay beyond the paradigm of what they could experience in this human life. He spoke of how memories from the past and imagination that was rooted in the future kept all human beings from truly grasping the present moment. He then posed a question, “Can you just be?” With memories and imagination crowding our waking moments, he said that we were lost in our minds, always looking outside of ourselves for solutions. “I want to be happy, Sadhguru but …” he said was a phrase he heard often in interacting with people. Many times, he said what people do not realize is that they need to take responsibility for their own happiness, without looking outside of themselves for solutions. He peppered his talk with several jokes, keeping the audience engaged and interested. When he paused in his speech (which was delivered impromptu) to the rapt audience, even a moment’s silence took on special meaning as there was pin drop stillness in a hall that brought together over 2,500 attendees.
This was my first experience attending a meditation retreat of any kind. What struck me was the way in which adults around me responded to the weekend’s program. Many that I spoke to told me about feeling energized and rejuvenated, ready to take on life’s daily challenges with a renewed sense of purpose. It is true – all of us adults do get caught up in a maelstrom of responsibilities and soon feel bogged down by the meaninglessness of what life holds. At such a juncture, it is common to feel deflated and isolated. Seeking something “more” from life itself is what draws all participants to a weekend meditation retreat of this kind.
A modern mystic like Sadhguru makes Indian yogic discipline and spirituality accessible to the mainstream in a way that is awe-inspiring. Every word that he utters is not meant to be esoteric and out-of-reach – quite the opposite actually. We can identify with the challenges that lie within ourselves and his words serve to help us seek lasting solutions inside of us.
Now, let me see if I have the discipline to do my practice for 20 minutes twice a day for 40 days as he advised – I’ll keep you posted on what I feel!
Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is the editor of India Currents.