Before I went to the ashram for Swami Niranjanananda’s Easter visit to Rocklyn ashram in 2009 a friend asked me if I would take on a spiritual name. Why in the hell would I do that, I told her.
I left the retreat with a spiritual name Shakti (feminine energy). Now sometimes people ask me why I took on a spiritual name and what it means to me and so…
The process goes something like this in Australia: you reflect on why you’d like to take an initiation and what it means for your personal yoga and life practices, you read up on the guidelines provided at the ashram prior to the ceremony, sign up for this commitment, and then on initiation day the visiting Swami from India might give you your name, mantra, symbol etc. The name given is not chosen by the initiate, rather it is given by the Guru.
I went along to this retreat merely curious. I had already completed six months of my (two-year) Satyananda yoga training and was most passionate about the creative and all-encompassing yogic ways of Satyananda, which to me includes not just asana etc but colour and sound vibration and an ashram environment that envelops you and provides space for deep exploration and acceptance.
What I knew about Swami Niranjanananda was that he grew up under the guidance of Swami Satyananda. I wondered what someone who had been involved in these deeply healing and spiritual practices since childhood would be like.
But when Swami Niranjanananda entered the ashram grounds the whole atmosphere lifted. I started feeling this for a number of minutes before someone explained that he had arrived. I believe he himself changed and elevated the vibration of the place, but I am satisfied enough to have it more logically explained as people reacting to each other and the signs in their environment. Probably these things come down to belief, and I have always believed we operate psychically anyway.
For the next three days I watched as the Swami talked, prayed and moved with us (or us with him…). One afternoon he entered the room and I just started crying, overwhelmed by emotion. Before this actually happened to me, I had watched all sorts of clips of hippies (I couldn’t be one of them?) crying as they sang devotional songs, and had slight envy of their access to emotion, alongside major disdain for what might have been fake. Yet there I was in awe of a Swami in orange. Those people?
Mostly I laughed a lot during the long weekend. Like the Dalai Lama, Mandela and other great leaders, Swami had the lightness of being that allowed him to smile and laugh his way through all sorts of snippets of wisdom, and he constantly gave the rest of us moments of a-ha recognition we could feel in our bellies. One of those snippets I clearly recall was about taking responsibility. In the end Swami Niranjanananda knocked me off my meditation cushion through his intellect, although the laughter helped build the trust. The wisdom and reminders he gives are practical and intelligent nuggets that can steer us towards right action. Although I can’t replicate the ethereal way he expressed the need for responsibility I was struck by his urging us to speak our truth, the “if we have a tongue, use it…” metaphor has stayed with me at times when I would rather have avoided clear communication, avoided risking conflict, and/or the need to define myself. I know from Swami Niranjanananda that I can’t escape to my yoga mat or feel sorry for myself for too long.
Over that weekend each time I saw him walking out of or into a room or along a path I moved aside and retreated. To be honest, my awe bordered on intimidation and for me I took that as a positive thing. Or at least, unusual.
After my initiation, I had quite a journey still to complete in my yogic studies. There were times when I thought of taking a plane flight and completing my yoga training more quickly at other venues. I think having made the commitment at initiation helped me find the energy (shakti…) to stick with the challenge of Satyananda yoga.
And it is still a challenge. Compliance and adherence to rituals are not so easy for me. And yet, when I have these questions about ritual I feel the guru I chose would accept me battling with my intellect. As long as I come out of it through my heart. I am not even sure what I mean by ‘guru’ as I don’t believe Swami Niranjanananda wants or needs ‘followers’. I am however, most grateful to the Satyananda tradition for both the freedom and the direction it provides.
Last year I attended another retreat during which Swami Satsangi, Swami Niranjanananda’s next in line, was initiating yogis. I did not take further initiation this time. I think my heart is still opening, thanks to Swami Niranjanananda.
Suzanne Frydman ©