I don’t normally talk about matters of a spiritual nature as part of my work with One of many, lest I be judged too woo woo, and not taken seriously in the work I do.
But I’m taking a risk this week, as it feels important.
I am feeling deeply blessed. Not in the social media #hashtag-blessed version of the word, which has become so trite with profane use. But in the etymological "supremely happy," and "consecrated, holy" sense of the word.
Last weekend my family and I attended a spiritual retreat at the invitation of our dear friend and Lead the Change graduate, Manda Lakhani. Manda is a devotee of Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, founder of one of the largest interfaith institutions in India.
We spent Christmas with Manda and her family in 2021, and while staying in their home my daughter Rose was captivated by their home altar, and learning to recite some mantras.
So when Manda invited us, my soul said a huge YES and I knew Rose would be on board too, excited to meet Manda’s guru. Greg and James were both supportive of the idea, so last weekend we packed up the caravan and journeyed to Gaunts house, along with a not insignificant number of One of many women, to connect with nature and importantly, connect with our inner nature.
The years since March 2020 have been tough ones for me personally and professionally. Being at the helm of a community of women during our toughest chapter as a generation has not been without its toll, and now we’re collectively getting back on our feet, I can feel my system needing a reset. I had been experiencing palpitations almost daily for about two months. Whether it was stress, deficiencies, peri-menopause or a gentle reminder from my heart to slow down, I don’t know. But it was getting worrying. So for all these and many reasons I was really looking forward to the weekend.
And grace awaited us.
I was raised Christian, in that I was baptised and went to a Church of England school. But my family was not active in our faith. At school I loved the ritual of the big cathedral services, and most especially singing hymns of worship. But as I have aged, my relationship with the divine has evolved. I call myself deeply spiritual but not religious. And I have to say that in truth a part of me has envied those with deep ritualistic religious practices that call to their heart, bringing them closer to the divine.
I have explored buddhism, yoga, Hinduism, paganism, kabbalah, Christianity, goddess worship… all of it trying to find my access to what I feel is God. I have had moments of deep recognition, but never the blinding flashing lights that say “here it is! Your thing!” But I must say, as a seeker I yearn for that.
I yearn for the certainty that I’ve found my path.
So I’m always exploring, and last weekend was an exciting adventure of exploration. Especially as, this time, my family was with me.
As we settled down in the marquee, cross-legged on the floor, singing devotional songs led by Manda’s talented daughters, Shreya and Roshni, I could feel my heart opening and hopeful.
Rose felt it too.
We were late to arrive, so since there was no more room for us all at the front as a family, Rose took herself up the front, happy to sit with strangers, to be closer to the guru when he arrived.
And when we all stood to welcome Swamiji (as his devotees call him) and American-born Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, now one of the pre-eminent spiritual leaders in the world, my heart and mind stilled.
I have met people infused with love and grace before. People for whom the usual pulls and tribulations of normal life have little meaning. I’ve even met a real life Indian guru before, as a 22 year old practising yogi. But nothing prepared me for being in the presence of such spiritual grace.
And it wasn’t just me feeling it either. The kid-o-meter told the tale… Explain to me how a 6 year old and a 10 year old, who can barely last a 10-minute car trip without entertainment, can sit for 90-120 minutes at a time listening to songs in a language they don’t understand, to discussion of very adult concepts such as self-awareness and ego, and do all this without saying “I’m bored” or “I want to go”! But that’s exactly what happened!
My otherwise active kids, who normally fidget constantly unless plugged into screen, sat, and listened. Granted there was some wiggling, but they were present. I still can’t quite believe it.
Rose went off to sound bowl healing with Greg, hosted by another One of many woman, Karen Skidmore. And loved it. James and I went to Sanskrit class. And loved it. And as a family we wrote our blocks, fears and limitations onto a piece of paper, and released it into the fire in the evening fire ceremony.
Rose took a while to warm to Swamiji- a guy in orange robes, lots of hair and a long beard is a little strange looking to a 6 year old born and bred in the Cotswolds, but by the end of the first day she was drawing him pictures, and helping Shreya lead the chanting for the fire ceremony.
The weekend was simple, nourishing and deeply moving.
Oddly, when I had the chance to meet both of these incredible spiritual leaders I was an inarticulate goldfish. My mouth agape. No words to say. Just gratitude for the chance to look in their eyes!
And yes, I have felt a significant change. While still feeling tired by the end of the days, I am light in my heart once more, in a way I have not felt for a long time.
And I have not had a single palpitation since meeting these wonderful beings. A divine healing from eating a blessed banana? A physical manifestation of releasing all that which was not serving me into the fire, while my daughter chanted mantra? I don’t know.
But I do know I was in the presence of grace this weekend.
And my deepest wish is that everyone feel the peace I was able to experience.
My invitation to you is to take a risk- do one thing this week you’ve wondered about… visit a place of worship, a stunning area of natural beauty, a concert… and allow your heart to open to peace and grace.
The world needs more of it.
I need more of it.
And I bet you do too.
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