the ripple effect

(how a personal spiritual practice can influence your community)

photo by andrea rollefson

There is a crescent moon hanging in the sky, and the sun is setting behind the mountains, casting a rosy glow over everything. I’m taking in the view after a long day of winter planning meetings. The peace I feel now is a good balance after the day’s busyness. People often think that life at an ashram is a peaceful paradise, but like any other family or community, we have to plan for the future and find ways of working and living together. Part of what we talked about today was how to keep our community healthy. This is a key question in any community or group situation because communities are living organisms whose healthy workings need to be taken care of.

When a community or relationship needs healing, you can see the signs manifest in many ways: people don’t feel appreciated for who they are; they feel like they don’t fit in; ideas and events become separated and the differences between people seem more important than our similarities; words, actions and projects are blown out of proportion; gossip and rumours abound.

Whatever community we belong to, we need to be clear about our purpose and intentions. A healthy community needs the strength of commitment from the people involved as well as open communication, gratitude and devotion.

All community work also requires personal work. And all of our inner work requires patience. If we want to have a healthy community, we have to start by making an honest commitment and showing respect for the place we are in personally. Personal reflection and a personal practice are great tools for this. You can start by sitting quietly for a few minutes, or chanting, or doing Hatha Yoga and allowing your mind to relax. Then take a few minutes to write down what is on your mind. Ask yourself: What kind of person do I want to be? What are my ideals? How am I interacting with others – am I being straight? By taking time each day to check in with yourself you build the trust and strength to address what will arise with others.

When we know ourselves, we can come from a sincere and straight place in our interactions. If you find yourself wanting to get out of a situation, walking around a problem or not engaging with someone out of fear or uneasiness, think how you would like to be treated if you were in the other person’s place. Bring it into your reflection and ask yourself, “How would I do things differently next time?” When the situation arises again you will recognize the opportunity to take a different course of action. This is part of the perfection of life. We see our limitations for what they are and realize that we can use our limitations to keep transforming and evolving.

This brings us to the healing power of devotion. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna promises that those who are devoted to him will come to him. “Fix thy mind on Me, be devoted to Me, sacrifice to Me. Thou shalt come even to Me; truly I promise thee, for thou art dear to Me.” We can translate this into our daily lives by asking: What am I devoted to? How can I create devotion, a heartfelt connection to the Divine? Through your commitment and devotion, you can come to know your true nature.

Devotion requires renouncing some of our desires and realigning ourselves with what is very important and precious to us. Like a small baby needs to be looked after in order to grow, our spiritual life needs the same attention, love, engagement and focus. If we’re just starting out on this path, we can consider our spiritual life like a “spiritual baby.” Looking after babies always requires some sacrifice of time. It is essential to take the time to have a spiritual practice. Through devotion to your inner life you will find that your awareness and caring will naturally expand and ripple out toward others in your community.

It is important to take time to be grateful for the relationships and communities we are part of. Gratitude brings humility and is a greatly undervalued feeling. It opens the heart and helps us appreciate other people and their perspectives. Take the time to recognize what has been given to you. Recognizing all the sacrifices people in your life have made to get you where you are today, you will see how precious life is.

Swami Radhananda is president and spiritual director of Yasodhara Ashram in British Columbia, Canada.

   read more of swami radhananda's past columns

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